Havre Daily News
A proposed ordinance that would require renters and new water customers to pay the city a water deposit has been sent to the Havre City Council's Ordinance Committee for further review.
The City Council voted 7-0 Monday night to send the proposed ordinance to the committee. If the committee approves it, there will be two public hearings before the council could adopt the ordinance.
The council's Water and Sewer Committee had forwarded the ordinance to the City Council without making a recommendation on it.
"I think it needs to be moved to the Ordinance Committee for review and study, to make any decision on whether it should be amended or not," City Council president Rick Pierson said before the vote. Pierson chairs the Ordinance Committee.
The council's vote Monday did not mean the ordinance will be adopted, he added.
City Council member Allen "Woody" Woodwick, who is a landlord and a member of the Water and Sewer Committee, proposed a water deposit last summer. He told the council that not everyone is happy with a proposed ordinance, but that it is a compromise between landlords and renters.
"We have a group of people that wants to get rid of the existing ordinance altogether and a group of people that doesn't want to change the ordinance at all," Woodwick said, adding that he thought it would give some relief to landlords.
The effort to draft the ordinance began about nine months ago after several local landlords complained they were getting stuck with large water bills by renters who either waste water or leave without paying the bill. In Havre, landlords are held responsible for unpaid water bills left by their tenants. The ordinance does not change that, but the deposit is intended to minimize landlords' liability.
The ordinance, drafted by City Attorney Jim Kaze, would require a water deposit of three months' worth of water bills based on the monthly average of water use in the unit over the last 12 months or $120, whichever is higher. Renters and property owners who are getting water service with the city for the first time would pay the deposit. Water users whose water is disconnected for nonpayment would also be required to pay the deposit before getting service reconnected.
The ordinance also proposes increasing the cost of reconnecting water service from $15 to $40 for units where water was terminated for nonpayment, and from $10 to $20 for units that were temporarily disconnected at the owner's request.
Council member Terry Schend told the council that whatever the outcome of the proposed ordinance, the city's billing office needs to pay "strict attention" to its billing guidelines.
Some local landlords have said the city does not follow its own policy, and often takes longer to terminate water service for nonpayment than city policy specifies.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said he and City Clerk Lowell Swenson would make sure the city's policy is followed.
No members of the public commented on the ordinance, but at recent meetings, local landlords have criticized the ordinance. They said the city should go back to billing renters directly for the water they use, as it did before the ordinance was changed seven years ago.
City officials have said that would result in higher water rates because delinquent bills, rather than being paid by landlords, will be spread among all water users.
Brad Lotton, spokesman for the Havre chapter of the Montana Landlords Association, said after the meeting that that would mean only about a 5-cent increase on each meter per month in the city. That is preferable, he said, to forcing landlords to pay their tenants' unpaid bills, which can be hundreds of dollars.
Lotton spoke against the ordinance at a Feb. 18 meeting, but did not on Monday night.
"We'll reserve our comments for the Ordinance Committee," he said after the meeting.
"There's no sense rehashing the same things over and over and over again and wasting everyone's time," he added.