The Winlock City Council has approved policies that could cut local sewer/water customers a break related to abandoned hookups and late payments.
Discussed during the July 28 council meeting, officials approved an ordinance allowing those with hookups that are currently abandoned to restore service at a rate significantly reduced from the cost for a new sewer/water connection.
Officials had agreed just recently to increase the regular rate from for water hookups from $2,500 to $3,000 and for sewer hookups from $3,500 to $4,000, both for residential connections within the city limits. At the same time, the council had been discussing requests from property owners asking for a lower rate for connections that were not new but were simply abandoned, with some stating the high cost of a new hookup was more than they had expected to invest in their property.
While initially the council said they would be unable to offer special rates, as following any rules other than what was outlined in city ordinance could constitute a gifting of public funds, they approved a new ordinance during their last meeting allowing those with abandoned hookups to pay a rate of $137.64 for every year the hookup had been unused rather than $7,000.
"The city gets a little bit of money, and they [customers] save a little bit of money," said Mayor Lonnie J. Dowell, explaining the figure of $137.64 per year was calculated using current city policy, which allows a utility customer to pay for a minimum of two months of service (one billing cycle, at $137.64 per month) every two years to prevent their hookup from becoming abandoned.
Dowell said Winlock currently has three individuals hoping to take advantage of such an alternative rate, which will officially become available after Aug. 11 and remain an option until Dec. 31. After Jan. 1, Dowell said the city will expect all customers needing a connection to conform with the fees for new hookups.
While a new price structure was put in place for abandoned utilities, the council also approved a one-time exemption for customers who were late on their bills this last billing cycle, as a new, shorter timeline was approved in May. According to the new timeline, bills are due by the 20th of the month after they are mailed out, then are considered past-due by the 21, with utility services to be shut off by the 28 without payment.
A number of customers who regularly paid late under the old system, which allowed for roughly one month after the due date before services were shut off, have been given until Aug. 20 to pay their bill for the May-June billing cycle before their services are stopped.
"It's just this one billing cycle," clarified Dowell, stating all customers will be expected to stick to the new rules for the July-August billing cycle, with City Clerk Theda Curry adding the council's action would not credit any late fees incurred under the new system.