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City Puts Teeth In Bill Collecting

Clarifiying ordinance

At last week's White Salmon City Council meeting, the city approved an ordinance that clarifies enforcement against those not paying their utility bills.

"This provides ways to enforce payments owed on various services the city provides," explained Ken Woodrich, the city's attorney, during the Dec. 3 meeting. "It allows the city to keep some teeth in its ordinances, to make sure bills are being paid."

Council member Mark Peppel asked what would happen if someone had a water meter on a vacant lot.

"Would they still have to pay for garbage service?" Peppel asked.

"Anybody with a water meter pays for garbage service too," Woodrich responded.

Council member Brad Roberts said he believed the changes were needed.

"It sounds like a good recommendation," Roberts said.

The new ordinance was necessitated by a recently approved amendment to its garbage ordinance, which requires all White Salmon water customers to have city garbage service.

"The City Council wishes to tie the failure to pay for any required city services -- water, garbage, or sewer -- to the termination of both water and garbage service until all defaults have been cured," read an excerpt of the newly-approved ordinance. "The Public Works Director is authorized and directed, at the end of 15 days after the date of the first delinquency on any garbage, water, or sewer charges, to cut off water services from the premises to which services were furnished, and all water service shall remain cut off until all garbage, water and sewer charges, current and delinquent ... have been paid."

The motion to amend the ordinance was approved 4-0. The new enforcement policy goes into effect in mid-December.

White Salmon Clerk-Treasurer Lori Kreps said the new approach would help the city collect on unpaid utility bills.

"Some properties haven't been paying and are in major arrears," Kreps said. "We wanted to have the order so we can shut off the water. The state says we can't shut off garbage or sewer service because of health issues, but we can with water. We're not saying we're immediately going to cut anyone's water off, but this will make enforcement easier."

Kreps added that it is too early to tell what impact the current downturn in the economy may have on the city's utility customers.

"It does seem like we have a lot of people paying late," Kreps said.

Mayor David Poucher said he hopes the ordinance is not one that gets much use.

"There are always a few people who are late, but people seem to be paying their bills," Poucher said.

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