Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Clay residents to see water rate increase

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Starting in either March or April, Clay water customers can expect to pay an additional eight dollars a month.
The water rate increase is just one of a number of increases that customers will need to be aware of in the coming months. Also on that list are increases to the “cut on” fee charged to customers who are disconnected due to not paying their bills, and increased tap on fees for new water, gas and high pressure customers.
According to city clerk Julie Rhye, this will be the first water rate increase that Clay customers have seen in 15 or 16 years.
For communities, such as Clay, the only source of income is taxes and utilities. Each year the cost of paying employees goes up, as does the cost of supplies used to maintain utilities and other city services. In order to keep up with increasing expenses, cities need to either raise taxes or increase their utility rates.
In Clay’s case, for a number of years auditor Mike Overby has recommended each time he presented his annual audit that the city increase utility rates.
Clay also saw a loss in the areas of water, gas and sewer in the last fiscal year, meaning that the city’s largest source of income took a loss.
According to Rhye, the majority of Clay’s water customers pay the minimum bill, which includes anything up to 2,000 gallons of water. Currently those customers pay $17.50. When the rate increase is passed, that bill will go up to $25.50 per month.
For the next 2,000 gallons the rate will go from $0.05300 per gallon to $0.0600 per gallon. A third level, which is anything over 4,000 gallons would increase from $.04 to $0.49 per gallon, but according to Rhye, this will not affect anyone as there are no major industries on Clay water.
Other increases
•New water tap from $200 to $350.
•Gas tap from $350 to $400.
•Fee to have a gas meter increased from $5 to $10 a month.

Another major concern of the city council has been the cost of dealing with customers who do not pay their bills on time.
“Right now, on the 20th of the month utility bills are mailed out,” said Rhye. “If they are not paid by the 7th, they are charged a late fee. Late notices are mailed out on the 10th. Services are cut on the 17th.”
According to city officials, it is common for the customers to arrive soon after their services have been stopped wanting their utilities turned back on. Clay has gas customers all the way from Highway 109 in Providence to Wheatcroft, meaning that in many cases city employees have to drive quite a distance to stop and restart services. This costs the city both gas and a loss of manpower.
When the increases are passed, the price of restoring services will be increased from $35 to $60. This increase, however, will be limited to customers of water and gas who were cut-off due to non-payment. It will not effect customers who ask for  their gas or water to be shut off during the summer or while they are on vacation.
Mailing two bills to customers is a cost that the city no longer wants to handle.
“It’s costly to send late notices every month,” Rhye said, saying that currently city attorney Ben Leonard is looking to see if the city can stop sending late notices.
There will also be a charge of $1.00 for customers who do not bring a copy of their bill with them when they come to pay their bill.
“If a customer comes in without a bill, we have to print a receipt,” Rhye explained. The payment system the city uses requires that a receipt or a copy of the bill be posted along with the payment. “But this change is still a few months away. We just want to make people aware that it is coming.”
In other business, council members heard the first reading of a business license ordinance that has been in the works since last summer. The ordinance will require any outside business who sell items door-to-door to register at the city building upon arriving in town.
The ordinance came up following a group of women who were in Clay last year selling magazines door-to-door. Many residents reported that the women were pushy, often attempting to gain entry to people’s houses even after being told that the resident was not interested.
Rhye said that when summoned to the city office, their behavior continued to be suspect. She said that one woman submitted what she considered a fake ID, while another woman refused to provide any identification. When they were told that the Clay police wanted to meet with them, the group left town.
“We don’t want people to think that this means it is safe to let someone into your house,” Rhye stressed. “This is just the city’s way of making sure we have a copy of their ID and license plate. You have to use your own judgement on who you let into your house.”

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