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Gibbon residents question big water bills

City seeks full payment, threatens disconnects

May 3, 2013
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

GIBBON - Past due city water bills amounting to several thousand dollars have the interest of a number of Gibbon residents.

Karen Farrell of Gibbon said her husband Richard Gurska got a letter on City of Gibbon letterhead, dated April 15. The letter informed him of a past due balance of $3,365.96 on the water bill. It asked for full payment and gave 10 days to contact the city to avoid further action.

"Please note that no further reminders will be issued and should your service be suspended, a reconnection fee of $70.00 will be charged to you. Once service is suspended we will not reconnect your service until the outstanding balance is paid in full," the letter stated.

The letter included a statement of account for quarterly and later monthly water bills dating back to 2007, Farrell said.

"I got the water bills I believe were estimated, (dating back to 2007) but never got an outstanding balance amount or (cut-off notice), so I left them alone, until now," Farrell said.

Farrell doesn't dispute the fact she owes money for old water bills, but she questions the amount, seeking some sort of verification, which she said was not done by reading meters.

"We were asked to read our own water meters," Farrell said.

Farrell believes the City of Gibbon is trying to collect more than $100,000 in past due water bills.

"A few other people told me they got similar bills," Farrell said. "Some people said they let their bills go for several months, especially during winter months when they have big heating costs, that took precedence. Other people told me they thought they were paid up and then got big bills."

Farrell said she expects the past due water bill issue to come up at the City Council meeting, set for 7 p.m., Monday, May 6 in the Gibbon Community Center.

The Journal called a Gibbon city employee and asked about the total amount of past due water bills and meter reading. Questions were not answered. The Journal was asked to call Gibbon Mayor Jeff Gatton and/or Gibbon City Attorney Rafael Miller who has an office in Gaylord. Gatton did not return phone calls.

Miller said he did not have details on past due Gibbon water bills but would talk to a city official about the issue being public information.

According to an article written by League of Minnesota Cities Research Attorney Jeanette Behr, Minnesota cities use one or both of two methods to get paid for water services when the normal billing process fails. Water services can be shut off except during cold weather months - between Oct. 15 and April 15 - if the shut-off would in any way affect the primary heat source of the unit and the consumer complies with rule provisions.

Unpaid water bills can be certified to the county auditor for payment with property taxes, according to Behr.

Water shut-off notices must clearly identify the person or persons the city authorizes to listen to consumers and make appropriate decisions based on the facts. A discussion of unpaid bills, or hearing, is an informal proceeding and cities can enter into installment agreements with consumers to address unpaid bills.

The law allows cities to enforce charges against a lessee or occupant, but also requires cities provide tenants notice and a hearing.

To avoid water shut-off, cities can certify unpaid water bills to their county auditor once a year. Outstanding debts become a lien, or charge against the property, collected with property taxes. Even if property is sold after certification, the buyer must pay the debt.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

 
 

 

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