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Monte council revisits water leak amnesty policy

Montesano City Council members repealed their “no amnesty” water leaks policy Tuesday night just weeks after first approving it.

“This is a small community,” Councilman Rich Klinger said at his last meeting as a councilman. “You want to work together for the public.”

City Attorney Dan Glenn presented a new resolution for the council to consider, but members said they wanted to make changes to it first before adoption. The issue will likely come up in January. The proposed leak adjustment resolution allows a user to request amnesty for a major leak on their side of the meter once every three years. That’s a far departure from the policy adopted last month that refused any kind of amnesty.

Seeing the writing on the wall that some kind of change could be put in place, Mayor Ken Estes opted not to implement the no amnesty policy right away, giving the council until Jan. 1 to change it. Estes was having the city take the average of the last three water bills and forgive the rest during this interim period.

The original no amnesty policy was adopted on a 4 to 3 vote with Council members Pam McElliott, Lyle Powell, Pat Herrington and Ken Walkington voting for it. And Doug Streeter, Chris Hutchings and Klinger voting against it.

The policy was repealed on a voice vote with Council members Klinger, Hutchings, Powell, McElliott and new Councilwoman Marisa Salzer voting to repeal it. Only Herrington voted to keep the policy in place. Councilman Walkington was excused from the meeting.

Herrington argued that city water was a “resource we have in the city” and the city shouldn’t just give it away for free — even in situations involving leaks. “While some might feel it’s punitive because we’ve always done it this way, it’s not a real argument,” Herrington said, adding that the city has a state mandate to reduce its water leakage.

Public Works Director Rocky Howard says about 12 percent of its system leaks right now. On questioning by Hutchings, Howard said he couldn’t be sure how much of that was on the city side and how much on the residential side. Hutchings noted that the city doesn’t bear that much cost by losing a few hundred gallons here or there.

Howard noted that the city has forgiven between $15,000 to $20,000 per year for the past few years. The biggest bill was a major landowner that had a bill in excess of $14,000 that the city forgave. This was Salzer’s first major vote since being sworn in Tuesday night.

The new resolution calls for homeowners to notify of leaks promptly or, if the city discovers the leak, to notify the homeowner.

The city’s public works director or his designee would then “review the location, severity and nature of the leak to aid in the determination of whether any adjustment should be considered” to the water bill, according to the resolution. If it’s the customer’s issue, then the leak needs to be repaired within seven days of notification, unless a specific extension is granted in writing by the public works director.

Hutchings took issue with the seven-day requirement, asking why couldn’t it at least be 30 days?

The issue will be looked at in committee soon, Estes said.