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By Carmen Ensinger
The way the budget billing system works for utilities in Winchester is that when a utility customer goes in to sign up for the program, city hall staff will pull up a record of their utility bills for the past 12 months, add those up, divide it by 12 and get an average amount.
This average will be their bill for the next 12 months on the program, which begins in June. The idea behind the program is to prevent a customer from having an extremely high bill during the winter months when they would typically use more gas or electricity to heat their home. This is accomplished by paying more during the summer months when their bill is typically cheaper.
For example, if their bill is typically $150 during the month of July and their budget billing amount is $250 for the 12 months of the program, they would be required to pay $250 for the month of July even though their utilities might only come to $150 they would be required to pay the full $250.
This way, when winter comes around and they receive a bill for $600, they will have built up reserves that will ease the burden. Any reserves left over at the end of the fiscal cycle are returned to the customer. Anything owed to the city over the budgeted billing amount must be paid in full before the customer signs up for the next cycle.
But what about new customers who just moved to Winchester or moved into a new rental and do not have a year’s worth of utility receipts at a specific address to obtain an average monthly amount for the bill by the signup deadline by the end of April?
This is the reason for the amendment to the budget billing ordinance. The amendment to the ordinance allows for those who are not able to provide a 12 month history of utility bills to be able to provide at least a three month history which would include February, March and April.
The way Mayor Rex McIntire figures it is, if anything, it will be to the city’s advantage.
“February is typically a very cold month and March usually is too, so if the bills are high and the budget billing amount is figured on only three months worth of figures, then chances are it is probably going to be high,” he said. “Worst case scenario is, they will end up with a big credit at the end of the year.”
One thing to remember is that according to the ordinance, any time a customer misses one payment, or fails to pay the full amount of their budget billing amount, they are automatically out of the program and must pay the full amount of their bill.
So, if someone on budget billing thinks they are going to pay that $150 during the summer month instead of their budget billing amount of $250 and then go back on in the winter when the bills go up to $450, they should think again, because once they miss one bill, they are automatically out of the program.
Another amendment that was passed at the May 4 meeting dealt with utility shut-off. It said that all utility services shall be due and payable on the 25th day of the month. If they are not paid by the 25th, a penalty of 10 percent of the amount of the bill will be added to the bill when it is paid.
If a customer is late paying their bill three times during any 12-month cycle, the penalty increases to 25 percent of the amount of the bill on top of the amount of the bill.
In other action, Mayor McIntire said that a former business owner, Gary Garcia, who owns the now vacant chiropractic office, contacted him about a water leak in the building that was discovered by his realtor when she was showing the building.
Apparently, the water meter is located inside the building, so the city has not been reading the meter for the past several months.
“The last time the meter was read it was 3,491,” McIntire said. “The new reading was 11,849 and those are in 100 gallon units. That means for the past several months his usage in that empty building was 835,800 gallons, which was enough to fill our water tank five and a half times.”
Garcia’s water bill for those 11,849 gallons was $13,288 for an empty building. That amount included $8,107 for the water and $5,181 for the sewer.
“I think we need to help the guy out,” McIntire said. “In the past, we have always taken off the sanitary sewer charges because the water doesn’t go down our sewer. My thought was that we cut the bill in half for him but I wanted to get the council’s thoughts on that.”
The council was agreeable to the idea.
Alderman Bill Jacquot said the Cemetery Committee would like to know if the council wishes to pursue repairing, replacing or improving the stones that were marked last summer in the City Cemetery.
“We received one bid last year in the amount of $11,000 and we rejected that bid,” Jacquot said. “The question the Cemetery Committee wants to know is if we want to submit those same stones to potential bidders this year.”
The council agreed to submit the stones for bidding again this year to see if they get more bids at a better price.
Jill Cox, with the Pool Board, updated the board on the pool. The pool will be opening on Memorial Day weekend, May 28.
“We took bids for a sound system and had three bids come in but we rejected them all,” Cox said. “They were all three too high. They ranged anywhere from $1,700 to $2,900. So, we are going to continue to search for a more reasonable and affordable system.”
She said they are looking to purchase more lounge and Adirondack chairs with money that has been donated to the pool, including the $500 that was recently donated by the Methodist Men’s group.
Plans for the Spring Fling event scheduled for June 4 is to have admission be $1 per person and pool passes will not be honored on this day.
“Last year, we ran into a problem of people getting angry because they had a pass and they had to be turned away because the pool was full,” Cox said. “This year, we are just going to not honor the pool passes on this one day. Our hope is to draw in people from other towns who may have not ever been to our pool before and with admission being a dollar they might just come try us out.”