Council discusses adjusting water, sewer rates for snowbirds

By Kelly Ducote, The Observer September 11, 2013 11:45 am

Residents ask for disconnect, reconnect fees for snowbirds who head south for the winter 

UNION — Snowbirds asked the City of Union Monday to reconsider water and sewer rates for residents who head south for the winter.

Currently, residents who disconnect their water service, whether for a couple months or a year, pay a reduced vacation rate. While residential users pay monthly $27.16 for water and $40.61 for sewer services, the vacation rate is $19.31 for water and $21.78 for sewer.

Robert Joseph told the council he has contacted 13 cities that do not charge a snowbird rate. 

“Other cities charge a disconnect fee and a reconnect fee,” he said. “Which I think is fair.”

About 920 users are hooked into the city’s water and sewer system. Every year 40 to 50 residential households utilize a vacation rate, including snowbirds, for houses that are between renters or unoccupied or even owners who are absent due to illness.

A divided council debated the issue during a work session Monday evening.

“We ought to do a water rate that when a property is turned off it pays zero and adjust our rates to users who actually use the system,” said Councilor Doug Osburn.

Other councilors disagreed suggesting that the costs to fix, maintain and operate the system should be shared by all users who have access to the system thereby maintaining the city’s ability to deliver services.

“I would like to see my vacant properties pay zero, but the bills still continue for the city,” Councilor Roger Clark said.

The council scheduled another work session to discuss the vacation rate and assess the base costs required for the city to maintain and operate the water and sewer systems. Currently, the city is paying on three bonds for the wastewater system.

Also during Monday’s meeting, the council rejected a suggestion to require businesses in Union to buy a business license issued by the city.

“I think it is a fairly common practice for a city to require businesses in town to have a license to do business,” Osburn said. 

Osburn suggested that businesses might be required to show liability insurance or have a bond. 

Clark and Scott Yeager voiced concern about enforcing such an ordinance. 

“What constitutes a business?” Clark said. “Are you only talking about people who have storefronts? Are you talking about people who are running eBay stores online?”

Clark suggested that instead of trying to enforce licensing, the city should take a pro-business stance.

“We need to encourage businesses to come to Union,” Clark said.