EVART — Unpaid water and sewer bills may not be such a big deal in Evart after the council decided to change the city’s water shut-off policy.
At the Tuesday, Sept. 3 meeting the City of Evart council decided to eliminate the automatic shut-off policy and lower the interest rate on late bills from 9% to 5%. The council voted to add all unpaid water and sewer bills to residents' taxes in the spring.
A public hearing, followed by a discussion, was held on Monday, Aug. 19 and left the council on the fence about what should be done about late water and sewer bills.
"When it came to the council weighing the pros and cons," said Evart City Manager Sarah Dvoracek, "there were some with concerns and others who were neutral."
Evart City Council continued its discussion at its Tuesday, Sept. 3 meeting on whether or not to continue shutting off water for unpaid utility bills.
Before the Sept. 3 decision, when dealing with missed bills, a fee was tacked on to a utility bill each month and, eventually, the water to a home or business was shut-off.
But Dvoracek said that might be have been too drastic of a reaction.
"I understand why it is done," she said. "But shutting off the water is not the answer. No one should have to go without water because they have had a bad month or two."
Evart Mayor John Joyce said having the interest rate on the missed bills might have been too much to ask of residents who might be struggling.
“If they can't pay their water bill, why would we think they have the money to pay the interest as well?‘ he said. “Not having that added might allow for people to not fall further behind. A 9% addition to a $100 bill may not seem like a lot but it could make a big difference for someone who already cannot pay their bill.‘
Joyce’s motion to eliminate the water bill interest, seconded by council member Sandy Szeliga, failed in a 3-2 vote.
Council member Matthew Hildebrand then motioned to lower the rates from 9%, which Dvoracek said was to cut the costs of taking the time to mail out notices (a practice that has not been done in years), to 5%.
“If the full 9% is not needed, then we should at least lower it. There needs to be some consequence to not paying your bill on time,‘ said Hildebrand.
The motion was passed with a 4-1 vote.
In addition to lowering the interest rates, the council also voted to eliminate shut-offs.
If renting a building in Evart, a landlord can still ask for the city to shut-off a tenant’s water for nonpayment.
“This does not eliminate the ability for the city to shut-off a resident's water,‘ said Dvoracek, “it is just removing it from our automatic practices.‘
The council also decided to dd unpaid water and sewer bill to property taxes.
"We don't have the manpower to run around and be a collection agency on top of everything else," Dvoracek said. "We used to do that, and still do to some extent, and it takes up way too much time and resources to justify it."
Adding any missed bills to taxes would mean the city gets its money either way from residents, Dvoracek said.
"The missed bill or bills would be added to taxes in the spring," Dvoracek said. "The bills would be getting paid just not right when they are due.‘