The Lula City Council will consider scrapping an administrative fee on some water accounts, in addition to other policy changes regarding its enterprise funds, after residents recently raised concerns.
“Is there a better way sometimes? Probably there is,” City Manager Dennis Bergin said.
Resident Mandy Harris is one property owner who will be impacted if the changes proposed by the utility committee are approved.
Harris has expressed her displeasure to city officials that a water service account was opened in her name without her permission on a property she owns.
Harris rents the property, but when a tenant recently moved out, the water account reverted to her name with a $15 startup fee applied.
An additional $15 fee is charged every time an account is closed, which can add up for landlords like Harris.
“Both the former tenants and the owner of the property next to me have said the same thing about the city,” Harris said. “The city charges you whatever they want figuring they can get away with it.”
Bergin said City Council changed its policy regarding enterprise funds, including the water utility, a few years back that calls for accounts to be opened in an owner’s name when properties become vacant.
“She was unaware of that policy and procedure,” he added. “Our records don’t always indicate whether you’re a landlord or not.”
Bergin said it costs money to keep utilities operating even when residential properties are vacant, with ongoing debt and other obligations.
Bergin said keeping water accounts open on all properties whether they have a tenant is a way to spread the cost of water fairly and equitably across all customers, lest higher rates be imposed to cover rising expenses.
“That was really the driving initiative behind (the policy change),” he added. “It’s a burden every municipality, every utility incurs.”
Bergin said it is also costly to notify Lula residents about every policy change.
However, he acknowledged that charging startup and closing fees for water accounts when passing from a tenant to a landlord and back doesn’t make much sense.
“That’s kind of unfair,” Bergin said.
While getting rid of this administrative fee might not be a result of Harris’ protests, Bergin said other possible changes to enterprise fund policies and procedures “can be highlighted and attributed to people such as Ms. Harris bringing up her concerns.”
It’s unclear if Harris will be satisfied.
“And even if they make changes for the future, how will this affect the account that I am currently disputing?” Harris asked. “And my final question is whether or not it was actually legal for the city to have opened an account in my name without my knowledge or consent?”
City Council meets for a work session at 6:30 p.m. Monday at 6055 Main St.