Wednesday, February 27, 2013

City eyes change to collections law

More Bellevue residents paying their bills


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

The Bellevue City Council is considering a repeal of an ordinance allowing the city to place property liens on ratepayers to get them to pay past-due water and sewer service bills. 

A similar law was repealed in the city of Hailey last month. Hailey City Attorney Ned Williamson recommended the action based on an Idaho Supreme Court ruling that, he said, stated that using property liens for such a purpose is illegal.

The Bellevue City Council received from legal staff a draft of a redacted ordinance last Thursday that includes the change. The council will review the possible decision and bring it back to a public hearing, perhaps next month.

Bellevue City Clerk Dee Barton said no property liens have been used to date to collect past-due bills, but that shutting off water supplies to homes and taking past-due bills to a collection agency have improved the rate of payments since a sharp drop three years ago.

In February 2010, the city was owed $90,940 in past-due bills. Barton said that since that time, collection rates have gone up 30 percent.

“The majority have been collected,” she said.

Bellevue voters passed a $6 million bond in 2005 to pay for a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility on Glendale Road. That year the sewer rate was raised from $18.21 per residential hookup to $35. 

Today, sewer services cost Bellevue residents $69.88 per month. Water costs $26.21, bringing the total monthly fee to $96.09. 

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Sewer rates alone in Bellevue are scheduled to rise 3.9 percent per year, reaching $103 per month in 2022. However, a final decision to raise rates is made each year, following a review of engineering studies. 

The City Council has repeatedly been told by engineers that it will have to “build itself out” of the high rates by developing more property, thereby sharing the burden of increasing fees across a larger base of ratepayers. 

Barton said that based on current maintenance and operations costs compared to current revenues collected, there is no danger of the city’s sewer fund being depleted. The city has initiated an application to refinance its sewer bond, which could lead to a decrease in the rise in rates by 2015.

In other Bellevue news:

  • Bellevue Marshal Larry Clark said three cougar sightings have been reported recently in the city, including one near Bellevue Elementary School. However, Clark said Idaho Department of Fish and Game personnel dispatched to investigate the sightings have found no cougar tracks.
  • Janice Walton resigned form the Library board. Veronica Pattlan took her place.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com

 




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