By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre City Council will vote next week on whether to amend the city's water ordinance to make tenants ultimately responsible for water bills.
Havre landlords have been responsible for water bills since 1997, when the policy was changed after a contentious public debate. Several local landlords have pressed the council to revisit the issue for months, arguing that they get stuck with large water bills by tenants who waste water or leave without paying the bill.
In response to the landlords' complaints, the council's Water and Sewer Committee produced a draft ordinance that would require renters and first-time property owners to pay a water deposit of at least $120. Committee members said they had achieved a compromise between renters and landlords and forwarded the ordinance to the City Council without recommending approval. The council then sent the ordinance to its Ordinance Committee for review.
But the landlords said they wouldn't be happy until they were no longer responsible for the water bills in their rental units.
On Monday night, the Ordinance Committee had planned to go over the proposed water deposit ordinance and vote on whether to send it to the City Council for final approval.
But after a prolonged discussion with several local landlords, the committee wasn't getting anywhere, City Council member Allen "Woody" Woodwick said.
"The big thing was, they wanted the tenants responsible for the bills. They didn't really care what else happened," Woodwick said Tuesday.
Woodwick asked the committee to vote on whether to amend the city's current ordinance to make tenants responsible for water bills.
The four-member committee voted 2-2, with Woodwick and City Council member Rick Pierson voting to make tenants responsible, and council members Tom Farnham and Pam Hillery voting to keep landlords responsible for the bill.
That means the issue will go to the City Council on Monday night.
Brad Lotton, a member of the Havre chapter of the Montana Landlords Association, said today he is pleased with the committee's decision.
"The consumer should be responsible for their own bill," Lotton said.
"I don't know if it'll pass - looks to me like it should be a tie again in the City Council," Lotton said.
In the case of a 4-4 tie, Havre Mayor Bob Rice would have to vote to break the tie. Rice said today he did not know how he would vote if that happens.
Woodwick said he thinks renters should get the bill for the water they use.
"I've listened to a lot of the sides - a lot of different points of view. And I still feel that whoever uses the water should be the ones billed for it, and the city is a utility," Woodwick said. "I understand the different views, but I think that whoever's using the service should get the bill."
Woodwick said he will be "glad to see the actual issue come to light and come to the council for a full vote."
Farnham said today he voted the way he did because there are far more water users in the city than there are landlords.
"Because overall there's approximately 4,500 water users in the city of Havre, and the council is to represent the constituents," he said. "And there's about 450 landlords, and there is only a handful of about five or six that is fighting the ordinance that is now in place."
Hillery said she believes making the landlords responsible for water bills has improved the city's ability to collect water payments.