Initially, I was concerned about the increased utility deposit amounts. That was until I read about the $33,000 deficit in 2013. That money could be better spent on other needs.
On a social level, I have contemplated the different circumstances that citizens live and always come back to the idea of accountability. All citizens have an adult responsibility to every other citizen to promptly pay their utility bills. I am very compassionate about low-income citizens. However, it appears to me that utilities should be one of their priority needs. Utilities are more important than cell phones, Internet service, satellite television, tobacco and liquor, and every other monetary action and commerce that has nothing to do with basic needs. Accountable citizens should not be penalized for other citizens’ inability to manage personal finances.
On a political level, I cannot understand how the City incurred such a utility debt. Isn’t the city manager supposed to help reduce expenses? Maybe the old city council is just ineffective at their elected positions. How do you incur such a debt unless policy and ordinance are outdated and unattended? Regardless, it is apparent that poor policy and management are factors. I agree with the $400 deposit amount suggested by the council, but what concerns me most is if the City is not promptly shutting off services for nonpayment (I’m not aware of the current shut-off policy.). The City should give five days after last acceptable due date for payment. If not, the power should be shut off. The City is not a social service although special considerations can be effective and equitable (See HARDSHIP CUSTOMERS in my attached suggestions.).
I’m all for stricter rules which protect citizens who diligently pay their utility bills. Better rules make more people accountable and may improve the quality of citizens living in our community. It (expletive) me off that Vandalia is so behind times. Let me make one thing PERFECTLY clear. The city workers are doing a phenomenal job and can only do what they are told. Our department managers and administrative assistants are awesome. I just think council members, although I’m sure with good intentions, are simply not aggressive and relative to the times. I think ACCOUNTABILITY is primary.
Although I’m just a citizen, I am including a suggested comprehensive plan that may work for Vandalia. Although I’m not ordinance savvy, I think my suggestions should be considered. The following is a suggested utility deposit policy that I think is very equitable. I did not develop a multiple-services (landlord’s) section because I lack understanding in that area.
P.S. I don’t expect you to publish the suggestions portion of this letter due to space concerns. I’ll forward them to officials with this letter.
(The suggestions can be viewed under the “Editorial” link at www.vandalialeader.com)
Gregory Douglas Bontz
NEW CUSTOMER HOMEOWNER – Customers must apply for services and pay a $400 utility deposit and fee for a background check (Background-check fee is non-refundable.). The deposit and fee must be paid when submitting an application. If the background is positive, credit the account $200 on future utility bills. If the new customer purchases and moves to another local residence, and is in positive standing, the retained $200 deposit should be transferable. NOTE: Each homeowner listed on the property deed must be listed on the account. Proof of ownership is required. Deposit is not transferable to other applicants.
If the new customer background check is negative, the $400 deposit will be retained by the City. These customers can apply for a $200 deposit credit if prompt in paying utility bills for a consecutive 18-month period. No new services will be provided if there is an outstanding balance on a utility bill (See Figure 1).
CURRENT CUSTOMER HOMEOWNER – There should be no change with current customers unless they purchase a new home. If they show a positive standing, their initial deposit should be grandfathered and transferable. However, if the homeowner is not in good standing, the homeowner should be handled like a new customer with a negative standing. The currently retained deposit would be applied to new deposit amounts (See Figure 1).
NEW CUSTOMER RENTER – Consumer must apply for services and pay a $400 utility deposit and fee for a background check (Background-check fee is non-refundable.). The deposit and fee must be paid when submitting an application. If the background is positive, half the deposit will be credited on future utility bills. If renter leases another local property, and is in good standing, the deposit is transferable.
If the background check is negative, the $400 deposit will be retained by the City. If the renter leases another local property, and is in good standing, the deposit is transferable. If renters are in good standing for a period of 18 months, $200 will be refunded on future utility bills (See Table 2).
RENTAL PROPERTY OWNERS – Owners should not bear the burden of unpaid utility bills by tenants but neither should the citizens. Consider owners paying the city a minimal fee to receive a copy of background checks. This information would help property owners improve the quality of tenants. There should be a release-of-information signed by the applicant, giving the City authorization to release the background information to identified property owners. This would make landlords more responsible for leasing to responsible tenants.
MULTIPLE SERVICES RENTAL PROPERTY OWNERS – I’m not sure how the City presently handles these services.
HARDSHIP CUSTOMERS – If customers have a positive background check but living in poverty (information collected from recent tax returns and determined by council vote), require an initial $100 deposit and add $20 to the first five months of utility bills, making the $200 deposit. If customers are not prompt in paying utility bills during the initial five months, continue to add $20 monthly until reaching $400. Once the $400 is reached, after 18 months of prompt payment, the customer can apply for a $200 refund.
If the hardship customer shows a negative background check, $200 deposit is required. Add $20 each month until reaching $400. Once the maximum is achieved, if after an 18-month period of prompt payments, the customer can apply for a $200 refund (NOTE: There is no table for this section.).
• Utilities should automatically be disconnected for nonpayment on the 15th of each month. This gives the consumer a five-day leeway for payment (with late charges). It is not the responsibility of the taxpayers to pay for non-paying customers. Customers should note special circumstances when applying for utility services. If the customer has special circumstances, (e.g. medical condition) contact numbers and permission to release information must be provided so the City can alert individuals or social services before disconnect (This is only a courtesy.). The City is not responsible for issues arising out of disconnection of services.
• Deposits will be applied to unpaid bills. If the deposit is more than owed, customer will forfeit remainder of deposit. If the deposit is less than owed, customer will be responsible for remaining balance.
• There should be a prepaid $20 reconnect fee charged to customers who were shut off due to nonpayment.
• Customers who move from property without notifying utility company within 5 business days shall forfeit utility deposit.
• No deposit is transferable to other parties.
• No new services will be provided if there is an outstanding balance on a utility bill.