June 25, 2007

Unpaid bills total $50,000, water shut-offs begin Aug. 1

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

The Dassel City Council decided last Monday to resume water shut-offs for those with delinquent water bills, because the upaid bills totaled at least $50,000.

Notices to those with delinquent water bills will be mailed out by July 1, and water will be shut off for those property owners who don’t pay beginning Aug. 1.

The city had stopped enforcing the water ordinance for delinquent payers in 2006, because after the new radio-read water meters were installed, many residents had unusually high water bills. Property owners were offered payment plans, in which their water bills were spread out over several months.

Only a third of those in the payment plans paid their bills, however. The unpaid water and sewer bills were certified annually for collection with taxes by the county.

“For a utility system the size of Dassel, carrying $50,000 to $60,000 in accounts receivable is a poor condition to be in. Our current policy allows that to happen,” said City Administrator Myles McGrath in his recommendation to the city council.

Dassel is a small community of 550 households. To have $50,000 in unpaid water bills accumulate “makes me nervous,” McGrath said.

It is possible that some property owners won’t pay their taxes either, maybe up to as long as seven years, and all the while, the city remains unpaid for water and sewer, he said.

If the property owner uses water as his primary heat source for a residential unit, however, then the cold weather rule applies. The water will not be disconnected between Oct. 15 and April 15. The property owner’s income must be 185 percent of the federal poverty level, however.

Otherwise, “When it becomes necessary for the city to discontinue utility service to a customer for nonpayment of bills, service will be reinstated only after all bills for service then due have been paid, along with a turn-on charge as established in the city fee ordinance,” the ordinance states.

Odds and ends

In other business, the council:

• noted that State Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, asked the city of Dassel to authorize application for a bond by Monday, June 25, in case funding at a low interest rate is needed for a new water tower.

McGrath said the state’s bond rating will allow Dassel to get an “excellent, excellent rate.”

Also, the resolution committed the city to nothing. If the city didn’t want the offer of state bonding, it could refuse, pointed out Deb Suchy, a Dassel resident who attended the city council meeting.

The resolution failed for lack of a second, though.

On Wednesday, Mayor Ava Flachmeyer called a special meeting for Saturday, June 23, to consider getting on the list for state bonding for a water tower.

Odds and ends

In other business, the council:

• authorized the city engineer, Barry Glienke of Bolton & Menk to get more specific information about the costs of repairing Third Street, repairing the railroad crossings at Third and Fourth streets, and installing non-traversable curb medians in the crossings so the city will qualify for a quiet zone. McGrath said the three phases do not have to be done all at once, and is estimated to cost a total of $88,000.

Also, Meeker County has not made a decision yet whether it will help pay for the Fourth Street crossing. Fourth Street is also Meeker County Road 4.

McGrath said the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad has indicated it wants the Third Street crossing closed. But only the city has the right to close a crossing, McGrath said.

• delayed making a decision for at least a month whether to add a $300,000 community room to the Universal Laboratory building, so council members have time to think about what they will do. McGrath said he has found three options: utilizing a lease program with a major lender, the Dassel EDA finance it and lease it to the city, or having the city finance it with general obligation bonds, which would require a referendum.

• decided to advertise for a part-time administrative assistant. The 12-to 16-hour a month position is budgeted for $2,000 annually. The assistant will coordinate the city’s web site, local cable channel, newsletter and some community promotional tasks with the Dassel Area Chamber of Commerce.

• authorized an agreement with MnDOT that a vehicle pre-emption system will be installed at the intersection of Highways 12 and 15. A receiver at the intersection will be signalled by a fire truck, law enforcement or rescue vehicle to turn the lights red. This will stop the other vehicles on the highways, so the emergency vehicles can get through the intersection as quickly as possible.

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