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The Bedford City Commission voted on Thursday, Sept. 27, to reaffirm Ordinance No. 1, Series 2008, regarding the collection of delinquent sewer bills in the city.
The subject had been a hot button topic of discussion during the last two regularly scheduled monthly meetings of the government body. After instructing City Clerk Joyce Teague to “play hardball” with delinquent customers at the August meeting and to disconnect water service to customers who did not make payment within 30 days of the billing date, the commissioners voted at the Sept. 24 meeting to refund the $110 disconnect fee for one delinquent customer who complained.
Bedford Mayor Russell Clifton, who was unable to attend the Sept. 24 meeting, called the special meeting for last Thursday to clarify the city’s payment policy and the billing process involved.
“I think everyone knows the state the economy is in,” Clifton said at the outset of the meeting. “But we also know that we have a town that we have to run and take care of. I think you guys need to make a policy—if we’re going to change the old one, then fine. But I think you guys need to say what’s in that policy and then we need to go by that policy.”
City Attorney Genon Hensley said the city’s sewer customers deserve to be clear on what action the city planned to take regarding delinquent bills.
“Just to be clear, what is our policy on collecting sewer bills? Here’s what we need to do today: We need to say this is what our policy is. If you want to change it, then change it but let’s put our policy on the table first. Then discuss what happened to cause us to have second thoughts last week,” Hensley said. “What do we need to do so that everybody understands what is going on? I think people are confused now.”
“I don’t think the policy changed,” Commissioner Frank Floyd said. “I think the method that we were going to enforce the policy is what changed.”
Clifton reminded the commissioners of the findings of a recent audit completed by auditor Jeff Woods, of Raisor, Zapp and Woods, PSC, of Carrollton.
“We just had an audit done. The person who we hired to do the audit was here Monday and told you that the sewer rates have got to change. If we don’t have a proper bill-paying system what is the use in raising the rates. If we don’t raise the rates as has been suggested by the auditor, then why are we hiring an auditor and paying him the taxpayers’ money to come and give us recommendations that we’re supposed to need and then we ignore him and say we’re not going to do anything? We have to make up our minds, guys,” Clifton said. “We’re not raising the rates today but we’re going to have to raise the rates.”
“It’s been 14 years since the last rate increase,” said Commissioner Harold Greene.
“We were still doing pretty good as long as all the houses were full and everybody was paying their bills,” Commissioner Darrell Harmon said. “The last couple or three years has been tough.”
Floyd said “maybe Joyce got a lot of the grief for not calling a lot of people out here but it was told to her at the meeting before for her to quit calling. She has quit calling and if it’s anybody’s blame it’s us five, it’s not her.”
Commissioner Todd Pollock said if the phone calls involved but a handful of people “then I don’t have a problem with it but if it’s 300 people then there is a time problem.”
Clifton asked to review the current ordinance, enacted by the commission on May 19, 2008. With regard to delinquent accounts and the method of paying sewer bills the document reads as follows:
“The sewer bills are due by the 10th day of each month. Bills remaining unpaid on the 11th day of the month will be considered delinquent and a shut off notice will be sent giving a specific date on which the service will be disconnected. In order to prevent a disconnection of service, payment or payment arrangements must be made in full before the shut off date. Accounts where service has been disconnected must be paid in full before the city will authorize the Trimble County Water District No. 1 to reconnect service at that address.”
Pollock made a motion to reaffirm the ordinance as written in 2008. The motion was seconded by Harmon and was approved by the commission with Floyd abstaining.