Oregon code updated for non-payment of utility bills

Kelly J. Kaczala

        Oregon City Council approved an update to the municipal water code that penalizes residents who violate water rules and regulations.
        “The bigger item is our $50 penalty for non-payments,” said Public Service Director Paul Roman at a council meeting on Monday.
        “The purpose of the penalty is to recoup costs of non-payments. If needed, we may send out three notices over a 50 day period to have utility bills paid. By the third notice, if you don’t pay by a certain date, we will dispatch meter readers to do shut-offs. We may have up to 20-30 shut-offs at a particular time, which is a lot. Some people will still try to come in after the last hour, try to pay it, and will argue not to pay the $50 because they are not physically shut-off.  But we’ve already spent – gone through the cost – of actually trying to collect it. To actually send the meter readers out for a shut-off – there is a cost.”
        “So it’s not a punishment,” said Councilman James Seaman, “but an effort to compensate for administrative and hands-on services that have taken place, basically.”
        “It’s really both,” said Roman. “We justify the cost by the actual time and money spent. I want to make it clear that the people who pay their bills on time shouldn’t be subsidizing the people who don’t pay. That is the biggest reason.”
        “It is actually more of a punishment than an administrative cost because it really isn’t fair,” said Mayor Mike Seferian. “Mr. Roman, out of the goodness of his heart, after someone was scheduled for shutoff, would chose not to shut the water off, but they were still penalized the $50. And people had a hard time with it. I addressed many of those people in person. They would say, `They didn’t even come out to shut off the water, but I’m being charged the $50.’ I’d say,  `Would you rather we turned it off and you’d be out of water for three days, or be fined and still have the water.’ It’s something you take for granted that the water comes out of that spout when you turn it on. Still, we would like to afford the right to leave it on, but people can still be penalized for being late. It does disrespect the people who do pay their bills, which is, thankfully, most of the people.”
        Also at the meeting, council:
        •Approved the creation of the position of tax administrator in the tax department. “As some retirements occur, our expectations are that we’re going to be combining our finance and tax departments in a single entity,” said Administrator Mike Beazley. “We’re going to have a position of tax administrator, which will ultimately be the successor to the tax commissioner. I think the departments combined, with some changes in skills that council has already acted on, really creates more opportunity for us to help each other, be more flexible, and meet the needs of the tax payers, the operational needs of the department, at a lower price long term. We will take further steps later in the year as we go down this path.”
        Also at the meeting, council:
        •Approved an agreement with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) for funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) for the bid and construction of the Starr Avenue Resurfacing Project. The city received a $400,000 grant funding from the FHA through ODOT for the bid and construction to resurface Starr Avenue from Whittlesey Avenue to Lallendorf Road. The city also received $300,000 in grant funding through the Ohio Public Works Commission for construction of the project.     
        •Authorized ODOT to repair the Navarre Avenue Bridge over State Route 2 and I-280. “When you drive on Navarre and you’re going onto the northbound ramp, you’ll realize the abutment at the bridge is out by an inch or two,” said Roman. “You’ll feel that bump. We’ve had a lot of problems with this. We’ve made the request of ODOT to repair it. They’ve agreed to repair it at no cost to us. But there will be a major detour likely next fall when they will perform the work.”
        The work could take 30-60 days to repair, he added. “They will literally shut down the bridge,” said Roman.
        •Heard Seaman ask when the Kmart parking lot will be cleared.
        “I’ve been asked by some constituents about it. We made some great progress, but there’s still piles of stuff there. What’s the status of that? When will it be moved out?”
        “There was a half a step we had to take to achieve an environmental cleanup procedure,” said Beazley. “We have to jump through a couple of extra hoops that led to some delay.”
        “Once we acquire the property,” said Council President Dennis Walendzak, “will we be posting no parking signs for the semi trucks that come and park on that property?”
        “Yes, we will be doing that,” said Beazley. “We’ll decide the appropriate ways of working through those changes. Within about 30 days, the property will be ours.”


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