Water bill system needs overhaul

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 21, 2008

Cool, clear drinking water is supposed to be refreshing. Want to hear something that isn’t? Ironton residents who pay their water bills are essentially picking up the tab for hundreds of people who don’t.

That is a scenario that should leave a bad taste in the mouths of all city residents who do pay their bills. Unfortunately, many shirk this responsibility, leaving the city with more than $130,000 in recent delinquent bills and a total of a half a million dollars worth of older ones.

Although several ideas to fix this have been debated — and not all of them popular — the reality is that something has to be done and it needs to be done now. A start would be to overhaul the entire water billing, collections and reconnection system.

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Several years ago city council passed a law that said the landlord would be responsible for all the water bills at properties that they own.

Like so many other Ironton’s laws, this was never enforced. Mayor Rich Blankenship is looking to change that, but that has sparked an outcry from property owners who say that it isn’t fair.

As long as the law is on the books, the mayor has an obligation to enforce it — even if he disagrees with it himself — but the city council has drafted legislation to repeal this law while a new approach is identified.

A solid solution would be to require a $150 deposit for anyone wanting to turn water on in the city. Then the city has to change its system to make sure that water is turned off quickly when the account is delinquent and paid in full before being reconnected.

Plus, property owners should have some responsibility for picking up the difference between the $150 and the amount owed. This puts most of the burden on the renters but does mean landlords should consider a deposit system as well.

Pay your bill, you get your deposit back.

Even though some people decide not to pay, the problem is that the city still has to produce and filtrate that water. The city has to distribute it. The city has to read those meters. And that doesn’t even account for the other services that are on the water bill including sewer, garbage and the municipal and fire fees.

That all adds up to the fact that a select few residents are basically ignoring all responsibility because they know how to beat the system and that simply isn’t fair.

City council can — and should — change this law, but the first step is creating an efficient system for billing and collections.

Ironton’s taxpayers and residents who pay their bills on time shouldn’t be asked to clean up the messes left by deadbeats who don’t honor their responsibilities.

That scenario just doesn’t wash.