Danville says water bill complaints due to communication issue

Published 6:54 am Thursday, November 15, 2018

During the commissioners’ comments section of the Danville City Commission meeting Tuesday, J.H. Atkins brought up a heated topic: water bills.

“As I walked the streets of Danville, I got asked several times — too many times, really — about water bills in Perryville, from Danville residents,” Atkins said.

Mayor Mike Perros said he and City Manager Ron Scott had talked about the issue that day.  “Communication is the issue as we discussed,” Perros said.

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Scott said it’s fair to say the city needs to do a better job in the upcoming year of communicating “more effectively on methodology used and requirements and restrictions that were imposed on Danville, in terms of how we appropriately consider the factors that contribute to those rates in the various communities, because they’re different.”

He said the city has had complaints over the past several months in reference to “water improvements,” and one is the electronic meters that were installed.

“Frequently enough, when we installed the meters, they didn’t start correctly, so on complaint, we reset them and gave credit to historic usage of water,” Scott said. He said most often, it was residents in Perryville and Junction City complaining.

“When you look at the actual billings in those months of use, it translated into 79 or 83 cents a day … Those were not the problem,” Scott said. He said the problem was they were paid late, with penalties or cut-off fees assessed, and those homeowners got into “a circular negative situation. It wasn’t the actual water rates, necessarily, but rather the budgeting of the money and making a timely payment.” He then added the city did need to do a better job of communicating the “basis of the rates, and we plan to do that going forward.”

City Attorney Stephen Dexter said he would give “a succinct response to community questions.” The city performed a water rate study to determine what costs were incurred to deliver water to different areas of the county.

“As the city is a regional water provider, the question then becomes should the residents of Danville — strike that — should the taxpayers of Danville supplement the distribution of water to other municipalities or residents thereof,” Dexter said. “And I think from a philosophical standpoint, we say absolutely not.” He said so, the issue does become communication.

“It would be, I would say, unconstitutional for the taxpayers of Danville to supplement the payment of the distribution of water to people outside of the corporate limits of the city. I know that’s rather succinct, but that’s the most accurate portrayal of the issue,” Dexter said. “While that doesn’t show lack of compassion on the part of the staff or you, as elected officials. It is what it is. That fact can’t be changed.”

Commissioner Denise Terry said she spent more than an hour with Earl Coffey, municipal utility engineer, so he could explain the issue.

“A lot of people who had the high bills, they discovered they had a leak on their side of the meter and not ours, and also there was a glitch in the meter when it was installed or what have you, and a lot of those were resolved,” Terry said. “It sort of fell back on the customer to correct the issues that were there. I think most of them have been resolved. There are also less people to share the cost in Junction and Perryville.”

Dexter said it’s “a blessing” for the city to be a utility provider for the benefit of its residents. “To control water and sewer, it is a blessing. However, when you’re a regional provider of it, you’re much more local than a Kentucky Utilities or a Kentucky American Water. So the complaints of it can be readily heard the second and fourth Mondays (city commission meetings) of every month.” That’s a distinguishing fact, he said.

Atkins agreed.

“It is more expense outside of Danville. We’re not gouging anybody, just trying to do it at a reasonable rate to make it profitable to the city,” Atkins said.

Coffey said some of the confusion lies in the fact most have two utilities on their bills they pay through Danville: water and sanitary sewer. “One does not supplement the other. Those are two different costs a customer can have on a bill, and some customers don’t have sewer and only water. So when you hear a complaint, it is the perception that the user is only getting water, but it’s really not.”

Coffey reiterated Scott’s statement that the city is working to communicate that.

“We’ve met with almost all the elected officials … We’ll continue to do that, and certainly we’ll meet with the folks in Perryville and Junction, and make sure they understand the components that make up the total cost on that utility bill.”

Danville CFO Michele Gosser said, “We’ve been over hundreds and hundreds of bills with individual customers … One way I start is by breaking it down between water and sewer, and if they’re getting a two-month bill as opposed to a one-month bill, then it clicks in their mind.”