By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A decision may be in sight on the question of whether the city will begin collecting water deposits from renters to protect landlords from getting stuck with unpaid water bills.
The Streets and Sidewalks Committee of the Havre City Council took up the issue of the deposit on Monday night. City Attorney Jim Kaze presented the committee members with a draft of what a city ordinance imposing a water deposit might look like.
Kaze told the committee that there are three possibilities for deposits. One would be a deposit required of new water users and those who have not had an account for more than 18 months. This would be a deposit for property owners, not tenants, City Clerk Lowell Swenson said today.
A second possible deposit would be for renters. The deposit would be applied toward a water bill if the tenant did not pay the bill. According to an informal survey by Swenson, a similar deposit exists in Butte, where the charge is $75. Miles City and Missoula have deposits ranging from $40 to $50, Great Falls requires a deposit of about 1 times the cost of a monthly bill, and Billings charges a setup fee of $12.
A third possible deposit could be required of a renter wanting to reconnect water service after not paying a bill.
Dollar amounts were not included in the sample ordinance. Kaze told the committee it should consider the sample ordinance, discuss what kinds of deposits it wants to impose and then decide the amounts later.
Reaction was mixed to the idea of requiring a water deposit.
Committee chair Dana West said many people in her ward would be upset if a deposit were passed.
"I just have a sense that I'd have a lot of real angry people if we were to change this," she said.
Committee member Emily Mayer Lossing said the committee should be very careful when making its decision.
"I don't want to see another City Council five years from now dealing with the same thing we're dealing with today," she said.
Committee Allen "Woody" Woodwick, who proposed a deposit this summer, told the committee he likes the general idea of the ordinance.
After the City Council meeting Monday night, Woodwick said he thinks requiring a deposit would be fair.
"I'll have to look it over, of course, but I think it's a good middle-of-the-road approach," Woodwick said.
He said the people in his ward are predominantly renters, but that he thinks they want what is fair for everybody.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice told the committee he called some members of the Havre chapter of the Montana Landlords Association on Monday, but that only four landlords showed up for the meeting.
"I guess most of them didn't see it as a problem," he said after the meeting. "I don't see it as a problem now, but again, if they feel there's a need, that's up to the committee."
The committee decided to review Kaze's ordinance and take up the matter at a later date. The Water and Sewer Committee will meet again on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m.
Local property owner John Dritshulas said after the meeting that he loses $600 to $700 a year paying for water bills of his renters.
"I've got a renter that's got a $200 water bill," he said. "If he pulls out tomorrow, I'd have to pay $200 plus another month."
"I know I'll get stuck with some, but I wouldn't get stuck completely," if a deposit was passed, he said.
The council took up some other business Monday night:
Havre parks and recreation director Dave Wilson announced that Havre has been presented with the 2003 Gold Leaf Award by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture. Havre won the award for outstanding community landscape beautification for its involvement in the TURF program, which plants trees with the help of local students.
The city approved an increase in the amount budgeted for a project that replaced a half-block of sidewalk on the west side of Second Avenue north of Second Street this summer. The cost ended up being about $9,000 more than the original estimate. Of that, about $8,265 will be funded through the Montana Department of Transportation, and $1,280 will be paid for through an account used by the Public Works Department to buy material for street repair.
The city received two bids to pay for a new chassis and cab to be used for a brush truck. The money will come from the garbage fund in the Public Works Department budget.