September 14, 2021 |
A push by Saratoga Town Hall to collect delinquent water bills has produced a stream of past due payments. Until now, collection efforts have only produced a trickle. Town Clerk Marie Christen updated the mayor and town council at last week’s meeting.
Pictured above: File photo of Saratoga Town Hall/Police Department. Photo by Cali O’Hare/Bigfoot 99.
The letters were sent to delinquent accounts with a balance due of $400 or more, according to the clerks’ office. The total outstanding balance of those 34 accounts in August was $43,444.97.
The minimum amount due was $18,320.65. With $18,660 received, the town received about $350 above the minimum amount owed on the delinquent bills.
Still, about 43 percent of the delinquent $43,000 was collected. Christen said the town has started the process of turning off water on a few accounts which have failed to respond to the notice. Councilman Jon Nelson, who also sits on the water and sewer board, sought a clarification from the clerk for an exact count on the taps that would be shut off.
In some cases, the person whose name is on the account has deceased. The town clerk asked about a possible remedy to stop the meter from running as a way of providing financial relief to the heirs or to the estate.
If applied, the remedy would be a direct violation of a town ordinance that requires a monthly minimum monthly water rate if a property is connected to the town tap. The base rate of $25 pays for infrastructure and ongoing maintenance to the system that is shared by all users. Council debated the issue for a short time Tuesday night before punting the issue to the water and sewer board for discussion and a recommendation. Board chair Richard Raymer said a waiver could produce other problems for the town from other property owners in delinquency.
Councilman Jon Nelson said he was sympathetic to the financial burden families assume when they take over a property for a deceased relative. He noted that other bills associated with home ownership, like county property taxes, continue after a death. Nelson also expressed concern that if the town provides relief from the water – the unintended consequence of encouraging distressed properties could be the result.
Fellow board member Russell Waldner doubled down on the idea and said turning off the water is the first step in providing financial incentives for vacant, blighted properties to begin popping up around town.
The resale value of neighboring properties likely would decrease, as well. The water and sewer board agreed that it did not want to make a recommendation that violates the town ordinance. The matter will now go back to town council to discuss if the ordinance should be changed to allow for relief from the base water rate in specific circumstances.