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By Carmen Ensinger
The city of Winchester is once again cracking down on residents who refuse to pay their utility bills on time, or for that matter at all.
At the Aug. 2 city council meeting, council members unanimously agreed to amend their city ordinance regarding the shut-off of utility services to say that if the utility service, which is due on the 25th of the month, is not paid by the end of the month, then it will get shut off with no notice.
Winchester Mayor Rex McIntire explained to the council why he wanted to get even tougher on the few utility customers who do not pay their bills.
“I was up here at city hall and a man came in here at around 4 p.m. and was rude as heck to these girls and they put up with that crap all the time every month and it is the same people every single month,” he said. “We have gotten to the point where we have got to have a firm stiff policy.”
Winchester Clerk Carrie Burke said they have numerous customers who are behind or have been penalized for being late with their payment.
“Right now, we have 47 customers who are currently two months behind,” she said. “We have penalized 144 customers for being late with their payments, but while they pay the bill, they won’t pay the penalty. We have sent out letters for two months with their bills.”
Per the ordinance, if the bill is not paid by the 25th of the month, the penalty is 10 percent of the amount of the bill, but not less than $10. If they are delinquent three months out of a 12-month period, the penalty goes up to 25 percent of the amount of the bill, or not less than $30.
McIntire said, as with all things, there are some exceptions.
“I know there are times when things happen – people lose their jobs, etcetera,” he said. “If that happens, we will work with you if you come in here and tell us what happened. But these people that don’t pay their bills month after month, but can go to a bar and play the poker machines and then stand outside and smoke with a beer in their hand – we are not going to put up with them. They don’t pay – they get shut off.”
Alderwoman Sandy Long presented a petition, signed by numerous neighbors in and around the residence located at 130 Railroad asking that something be done about the deplorable smell, accumulation of trash and other items that disturb the neighbors.
“Their main concern is that there are no utilities (water or electric) to this house and the people living there are using the bathroom in the house and the sewage is going into the basement. the odor that is coming out to the neighbors is awful,” Long said. “The people who are living there have fights all the time and have people coming and going all the time and they don’t keep the weeds down.”
Ordinance Officer John Simmons said he has written the residence up numerous violations in the past and he has even spoken to the Health Department about the living conditions being that there are no utilities to the home.
“I contacted the Public Health Administrator Liz Stem and she told me she can’t do anything with this place,” Simmons said.
City Attorney John Paul Coonrod said he had also been in contact with Stem.
“She told me there is nothing she can do unless the city comes up with an ordinance to prevent anyone from living in a home without utilities,” Coonrod said. “I think both Greene and Jersey counties have ordinances to this effect.”
Coonrod said that the property had been issued violation notices for trash, weeds and debris and he thought they could add noxious odors to that list.
“Then, we could drag them into municipal court,” he said. “But we would need people who would testify there was an order. I think we could prove it up in court, then write a letter to the property owner and then put a lien on the property.”
While on the subject of garbage, since both Area Disposal sold out to GFL, residents who use their trash service have seen a drastic increase in their garbage bill, almost doubling in some cases. McIntire said there might be some relief in the form of a new service available to Winchester.
“Josh Allen, with J and J Disposal, doesn’t currently serve Winchester, but he said if he gets enough customers in this area, he would be willing to come over here,” McIntire said. “He’s not a big company and he said he would price people accordingly. So, if you are an elderly person with one bag of trash a week, he will charge you accordingly.”
J and J Disposal is located in Pittsfield and anyone who would like to find out more about the service and pricing can call 217-285-3553.
West Central Booster Club requested the city make a $650 donation which would cover advertising for events throughout the year, including the Winchester Invitational Tournament.
Alderman Lawrence Coultas, who has always supported the school in the past, was less than enthusiastic about it this year, but not for the reason one might think. His reason was because the Bluffs School Board failed to bring the discussion to the community about co-oping with Winchester.
“The Booster Club has been great and done a lot of nice things, but because of the recent snub our district received from Bluffs, I’m not crazy about supporting anything when Bluffs is involved,” he said. “Winchester gave them a nice opportunity but because of the way they snubbed us, I have a little trouble supporting anything their students are involved in.”
Discussions have been going on for more than a year and apparently, they are no closer than when they first began.
“Either you are going to work with us or not,” Coultas said. “Get off the fence and make a decision. I am really disgusted with the way the meetings have gone with Bluffs. It is time to tell them to take a hike as far as I’m concerned. So, when I vote no, you will know why.”
McIntire said he respected Coultas’ opinion but there was more to think about than the few stubborn members of their school board.
“I don’t want to hurt the kids from Bluffs because of their board,” McIntire said. “I don’t want the kids from Bluffs to be punished for something their parents might be doing.”
The motion passed with Coultas being the only no vote.
The board unanimously approved McIntire’s appointment of Harlan Fricke to the Zoning Board. Fricke will replace Ed Gant, who retired from the board last month after several years’ service on the board.
Alderman Bill Jacquot said that the city received no bids to repair the stones at the City Cemetery.
“We sent out bid packets to 11 potential bidders and didn’t get one back,” he said. “I talked to Justin Daws and he said he was too busy and didn’t want to bid on it and Richard Willis and Dwayne Crockett didn’t even respond to my text. They are all so busy they just can’t keep up.”
Last year the city sent out bids for repair of the stones and received one bid for $11,000 and rejected that bid.
Bobby Jo Smith, representing the Parks and Recreation Committee of the Winchester Civic Group, approached the council with several requests.
“The Parks and Recreation Committee approached people about things they would like to see done in the area of recreation,” Smith said. “One thing that seemed small enough to present to you was updating the sand volleyball court.”
Smith said there are several people who must go to other towns to play in leagues because the court in town isn’t up to standard for league competition.
“We have a court with a net, but it is not up to grade for leagues and competitive type volleyball right now,” she said. “So, what they would like is to see if we can get the strips with 10 stakes to hold them in place so the boundaries are outlined better than with just the grass.”
One alderman asked if there would be leagues in town if they made these improvements.
“People said they would play if they didn’t have to leave town,” Smith said. “We have people who play in leagues now that leave town to play, but even more have said they would love to be in a league if we had one here in town. They also want to hold tournaments here.”
The cost for the strips and stakes would be $67.35. For this nominal amount, one alderman suggested the purchase of two, which was unanimously approved.
Smith’s next request was a little more expensive – it was a Mommy and Me – Look at Me swing. This is a special swing that allows a mother and child to swing together – facing each other.
“I met with the representative from the company who has these to make sure that the frame we have with the baby swings on them can handle one of these swings,” Smith said. “He said they would handle it, but it would need a different bracket.”
The cost of this swing is $2,245.15. Originally, the council asked if the Parks and Recreation Committee could split the cost with the city, but after more discussion, it was decided the city would go ahead and purchase the swing on its own.
Smith’s third and final request was to look into the possibility of converting the unused tennis courts into pickle ball courts.
“We can get four pickle ball courts onto a standard tennis court,” Smith said. “They have been playing it in high school PE and there are lots of them everywhere as it is very popular.”
It was noted that the entire surface of the courts would have to be resurfaced. Smith was given the go ahead to look into it, though.