Thursday, November 29, 2012
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City: If you have running water, then you owe your sewer bill

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[November 29, 2012]  At the Tuesday evening workshop meeting of the Lincoln City Council, the members took turns around the room talking about items of interest to the city and items to be placed on the voting agenda for next week.

When it was Alderwoman Marty Neitzel's turn to speak, she said she had taken a position on sewer bills that she intends to hold to for everyone she encounters, unless the council says otherwise.

Her position is that if you have running water at your home but are not using sewer services such as toilet flushing, it really doesn't matter. If the water works, you pay the sewer bill.

Although she didn't name names, it was clear to everyone in the room that this topic was being brought up due to a visit from Pat Moos at last week's voting session.

It was stated that a person currently contesting a sewer bill says they have no indoor plumbing because the home they own is being remodeled. Building safety officer John Lebegue confirmed that there is a remodel going on at the house, that it is an ongoing project over the past few years, and the house is currently not occupied. After the meeting, Lebegue confirmed that the person in question was Moos.

Pat Moos first appeared before the city council in December last year to file complaints about a house he felt was a danger and menace to his neighborhood. He said the abandoned home owned by Michael Drake had holes in the ceiling and floor and was a haven for wildlife and feral cats.

He wanted the city to condemn the house and tear it down, or force the homeowner to repair the home and make it livable.

At that time, the city didn't have ordinances in place to fully address the situation, but Moos was told it was something building and safety officer John Lebegue was working on.

From December to February, Moos returned to the council asking for updates on what was going to be done about the house.

When the new nuisance ordinances were passed by the council in February, Lebegue used those new laws to issue orders to the homeowner to repair or demolish the property.

The homeowner, Drake, did do some repairs at that time, but not to the level that was expected by the city.

As a result, charges were filed against Drake by city attorney Blinn Bates, and the issue has since then been a matter for the courts.

Last week, Moos appeared in council chambers, angry and frustrated over the situation. He said that the city was not doing their job.

He was told that the matter was now a legal issue, but Moos argued that was not correct. He said nothing was being done legally. Both Lebegue and Bates were absent for the meeting, but ordinance chair Tom O'Donohue and Mayor Keith Snyder assured him that action had been taken to the full extent of the law.

During the course of the exchanges between Moos and O'Donohue, O'Donohue attempted to explain the situation to Moos, but Moos continually talked over the alderman to a point that Snyder had to pound his gavel and advise Moos that there would be a civil exchange between the two with Moos allowing the alderman to speak.

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Moos also told the council that he had stopped paying his sewer bill in July. He said the home he owns, which belonged to his father, is being remodeled and there is no running water inside the house and no plumbing for sewer use. However, he also said the water is turned on and an outside faucet is being used.

He said he had gotten a letter from the city advising him to pay the sewer bill or suffer having his water shut off and a lien put against his property. He told the council that those kinds of notices had "teeth" in them that prompted him to go ahead and pay his bill.

He said the ordinances about the nuisance properties didn't have teeth and still needed to be changed. He was told that the issues of nuisance properties and delinquent sewer bills were not related and could not be handled the same way.

Melody Anderson commented on this, saying that the city has to comply with state law on what they can and can't do with nuisance properties. It was explained that the state has no such control over what the city does with delinquent sewer bills, and that does make it a different situation.

In the end, Moos walked out of the meeting still frustrated.

This week when Neitzel brought up the topic, she said she wanted to give the same answer to anyone who contacted her, regardless of who they were or what their circumstances are. She also noted that changing the policy would mean a great deal of extra work for Lebegue as someone would have to verify that there was no working sewer in a home.

Neitzel was asked if sewer bills were prorated if water is shut off. She said yes, they were. She also drew the distinction that if the water is shut off, then the sewer bill can be stopped.

Susan Gehlbach, city clerk, offered more on this, saying it is the customer's responsibility to contact her and tell her the water is shut off. Once that happens, she calls the Illinois American Water offices in Belleville and confirms the shut-off. Once that is done, she suspends the sewer bill.

Kathy Horn said she was pleased with the hard work the clerk's office has done to get delinquent sewer accounts collected, and she felt there should be no policy changes that might hurt that effort. She said she supported Neitzel's policy that if the water is on, you pay the sewer bill.

Before the discussions ended, most of the aldermen joined in supporting Neitzel in this policy.

Before the group moved on to another topic, Anderson said she did have a concern she would like to discuss at a future date. She believes the charges the city puts on late sewer payments are excessive. She would like to visit that issue and see if the city might come up with something more reasonable.


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