Montesano Mayor Ken Estes cast the tie-breaking vote during the City Council meeting on Feb. 11, approving a new water leaks policy that 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 original policy adopted by the City Council in November, which refused to give any kind of amnesty at all. That policy generated so much backlash from angry residents that it was repealed by the council in December and the concept was sent back to committee for revision.
Councilman Ken Walkington said that the situation was discussed with city staff and a compromise of granting a leak adjustment every three years was brought forward.
“Based on input I understood from the last time we discussed this, it seemed like 36 months was acceptable,” Walkington said. “That’s not too long, not too short — 36 months. So, we stuck in 36 months.”
Several council members tried to amend the resolution, hoping to grant a leak adjustment every two years, instead. But the amendment was defeated. Council members Walkington, Pat Herrington and Pam McElliott voted against the amendment, preferring the three-year option; and Council members Chris Hutchings, Tyler Trimble and Marisa Salzer voted for it. Councilman Lyle Powell was absent from the meeting, prompting Mayor Estes to step in to break the tie and move the three-year resolution forward.
The final approval of the resolution saw Salzer, Hutchings and Trimble voting against the overall measure on a 3-3 vote and Mayor Estes needed to break the tie again, voting in favor of the measure with Walkington, Herrington and McElliott.
The mayor said the city shouldn’t just give its water away for free.
But Trimble questioned just how much “financial loss” the city really had to deal with.
“Is it that big where we really have to do something?” Trimble asked. “I’ve not seen real numbers on what we’ve lost.”
City Administrator Kristy Powell noted that, one year, the losses stacked up to $100,000, although last year the loss was more like $11,000, a deputy clerk said upon questioning. “You have people who every single September will come in and want a write off of the water they’ve lost,” Powell said. “For a small city, it makes a difference.”
Trimble and Councilman Hutchings also noted that helping the occasional resident out with their water bill isn’t really a big deal and what the city was effectively doing was trying to force residents to dig up their entire water lines and replace them, instead of patching the occasional leak one spot at a time.
“We don’t have the means to fix our pipes so if we require someone to fix their pipes, that doesn’t make any sense,” Trimble said. “If we have an inch and a half line that has a pin-hole leak, and we replace our section, do we have the means to replace the whole line? No. So we can’t have a citizen that can’t afford to replace the whole line, we can’t require that of them.”
“You’re forcing the individual to replace the whole line when they may not be able to afford to do it compared to a smaller section,” added Hutchings.
Trimble also noted that the city has not yet finished installing its electronic meters across the city so he thought the ordinance should at least be delayed until this summer, when that is expected to be complete.
Councilman Pat Herrington argued that the city had no policy in place and without a policy in place no one is getting any breaks on their water leaks. But, for years the city had been providing leak adjustments without any kind of policy in place, dealing with each instance by an individual case and refunding many accounts. It wasn’t until November that the “no amnesty” policy had been put into place — and that was repealed, bringing it back to the case-by-case unofficial stance of the city. It would have been the mayor’s and city administration’s choice on how to deal with the issue, absent an official policy adopted by the city council.
Councilman Hutchings says he’s not satisfied with the way things have worked out.
He’s asked for the issue to be added again to the agenda for the 7 p.m., Feb. 25 council meeting at City Hall.
Hutchings has asked for the resolution to be re-written to have it done every 24 months and to change the policy criteria for the leak adjustment.
”Currently, the leak adjustment would only apply to an outside service line,” Hutchings said. “I don’t see why this couldn’t apply to a rupture within, or under, the structure.”
Hutchings’ proposed change “would cover a sudden or unknown leak but not allow items like a leaky faucet.”
The newly adopted policy states that when a leak is discovered, the customer would be notified in writing within a week of the discovery. Within 30 days, the customer shall undertake repair of the leak and notify the director of public works and office of the clerk-controller in writing as to the date of the correction. Failure to repair the leak could mean the city will turn off the water until the repair is made, the policy says.
The adjusted bill paid will be the average of the last three billing periods for water, plus one half of the amount by which the bill exceeds the billing amount.
A “water leak adjustment form” will also need to be filled out.