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Milton to tackle new water service policy

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By JULIE BALL HAMBRICK

The Trimble Banner

Due to chronic inconsistency in recent years, the Milton City Commission will soon hash out a new water service policy.

At the monthly meeting held Sept. 13, Commissioner Jerry Harmon asked for an extra open meeting this month to start work on the City’s new water policy. Among other items, commissioners will address lifetime adjustments, service deposits and reconnection, as well as “cold check” policies.

The Commission approved the additional meeting, tentatively scheduled (at press time) for Tues., Sept. 18 at 7 p.m.

A passionate discussion about Water Department “write-offs”—unpaid bills unlikely to be collected—may have sparked Commissioner Harmon’s call for the meeting.

Right now, customers who leave town with an unpaid balance can’t get water service if they return to Milton, but most of these bills are considered a loss.

The City’s current annual budgets allow $2,000 to cover these bad debts. However, the City has accumulated $4,700 worth of write-offs since the year 2000. “Although (the funds) remained in the budget, the amounts weren’t written off by previous administrations,” explained City Clerk Pam Joyce. No explanation was available.

The City’s accountant recommends removing these bad debts from the active books. (Some delinquent accounts date back to 2000.) City Attorney Genon Hensley explained that removing these accounts from active books will “lessen the perception of multiple thousands of dollars of bad debt.”

However, Commissioner Tom Mahoney said the City “shouldn’t surrender those debts.” He reminded the Commission “the current policy is: bills out on 13th of every month, due by the 25th of every month, if not paid by the 10th of the following month, service is disconnected – now, this is what we say, but it’s not always what we do.”

Although Hensley agrees with current policy, she also called for perspective. “We’re not going to collect $120 (owed) from 2000,” she said. “And it just doesn’t make sense to pay $50 to file a complaint in small claims court to collect a $50 water bill.”

Hensley suggested the Water Department could increase the deposit for new service – currently $180. “If someone’s getting behind with their bill, turn off service before they surpass the amount of deposit,” she proposed. She went on to say that all businesses who request service should have business owners’ names attached to them – not just the business name. “This would help us track and enforce payment of outstanding bills,” she said.

The Commission voted to write-off the outstanding bad debt. More action waits on the new overall water service policy.

Amid ongoing concerns about sewer access at the Riverview development, Mayor Denny Jackson presented a letter received from Milton landowner and developer Terry Willis. The letter included a cost estimate to extend the sewer line throughout his 40-lot property.

The bid would cover installation of 150 feet of line for $2,400, which would bring sewer access to all but one of Willis’ lots. The letter was unclear if Willis wants the City to pay for the full job.

Back in the 1980s, the City installed a sewer line on the land now developed as Riverview. At that time, the land covered one farm with one owner. In 2004, a developer agreed to plot the property out into residential lots.

It’s reported that in 2004 former city employees and contractors promised Willis the City would provide sewage access to the lots. No documentation exists to confirm it.

About whether Willis got the thumbs-up eight years ago, Commissioner Harmon said, “I have no doubt he did, but we have no documentation on promises made by previous administrations or non-city employees.”

Mayor Jackson said, “I feel for him because he was told one thing, but I know we’re not obligated because that (information) was hearsay.”

Commissioner Tom Mahoney worried that paying for sewage access to Riverview now would “establish a precedent for future developments.”

Mayor Jackson said, “It’s of the general opinion to take no action on this.” He also remarked that this situation should serve as a “guideline to mayors and commissioners not to make promises without documentation.”

City Clerk Joyce reported that two Milton businesses have not paid for a business license for two years. The licenses, which allow merchants to operate in Milton, cost $50 per year.

Commissioner Hensley proposed a firm date by which delinquent businesses must pay for a license. If not, they will be asked to close up shop. No action was taken on this item.

The Milton Volunteer Fire Department is having a remarkably busy year. MVFD Fire Chief Jason Long reported that the department has made 154 runs thus far this year – the most since 1964.

“We have less volunteers now, but we’re making more runs,” said Chief Long. The department is also at work coordinating prearranged fire plans for many local businesses, with an increase expected for October.

Due to budgetary belt-tightening, the City will issue its annual $10,000 MVFD donation in two payments this year: the first $5,000 by the end of September, the final $5,000 by the end of this calendar year.

Many municipal projects are underway. According to Field Coordinator Mark Bates, Milton’s new lift station project is “pretty well done.

“We’re still doing some housekeeping, but the station’s working properly,” Bates said. A recent inspection by Kentucky’s Division of Water went well. “Representatives were very positive about the past year’s progress,” he said.

With autumn rolling along, the City is working toward purchase of a new snow plow. Snow plows average $5,000 and are installed separately on a truck. Bates projected a final decision will be made in plenty of time before the first snow flies.

The next big job on the horizon is a water meter replacement program. “Many meters currently in the field are 10, 15 or 20 years old,” explained Bates, who is researching the best plan of action.

Currently, Milton puts in traditional water meters, which cost $45 each. More modern options include “radio meters” that allow “drive-by” meter readings by cell phone. Such meters sell for $160 each.

In other business, Mayor Jackson reported this year’s Labor Day swap meet earned the City a little over $500. Commissioner Cecil Robak commended Ernie Mack for his outstanding service this year.

Commissioner Lynn Comeaux recommended putting Mack in charge of future events. She suggested the City could pay him a modest salary to assign spots and collect booth rental from vendors. “The City would remain on call in case of emergency,” said Comeaux. She added that Mack’s larger role “could save the City overtime costs” during both May and September events.

Commissioner Tom Mahoney proposed the City offer the position on a one-year trial basis. No vote was taken.

And, as in previous years, the Commission agreed to donate two bicycles to the annual Milton Elementary School Fish Fry in October.

The next regular meeting of the Milton City Commission is scheduled for Thurs., Oct. 11, at 7 p.m. at the Milton Municipal Building. Meetings are open to the public. For more information, call 268-5224.