Fleming- Neon water customer Rebecca Allen alleged discrimination and brought a billing complaint before the Fleming-Neon City Council at its March meeting.
She said the discrimination was the result of a “feud” over what she referred to as “stolen makeup” with a water department worker. Allen, who sells makeup part time, freely admitted her water bill had been delinquent. However, she said she did not receive a notice that her service would be terminated until her water was actually cut off, while others were allowed to continue with their service.
Allen said that at the same time her service was terminated, others who owed larger delinquent bills were given extensions, and she took issue with a $55 re-connect free. She told the council that she had paid the fee when she paid the outstanding balance on her bill and added that she had pre-paid for several months in the future.
Mayor Susie Polis told Allen that she had spoken to the person in charge of the office and made it plain that people should be notified by mail if they were to be disconnected. The council took over management of the water department at its October meeting over several issues, including the board’s inability to obtain a quorum for meetings. Polis said that since then, she has made it clear that water policies will be followed across the board and that no exceptions will be made and no favoritism will be shown. She added that generally, a person with an outstanding balance can will come in to the water office in City Hall and make arrangements to pay it gradually, while keeping regular payments current.
Allen also complained that her most recent bill had been unusually high. She said it is usually between $25 and $30 for each billing cycle, but it had been $56 in the most recent cycle. However, upon examination of the bill, it showed that the cycle was for an unusually long period, covering more than 40 days rather than the usual 30. Water Manager Chris Banks said he would send a crew out to her residence to check for leaks, if she wanted, but added that there is a $15 surcharge for a service call to determine a leak on a customer’s property. The lines on the customer side of a water meter are generally considered to be the customer’s responsibility.
Councilman Joe King said the best way to avoid billing conflicts of the kind raised by Allen is to make certain that water company policies are plain and transparent and followed to the letter. He suggested that the policies be made readily available to the public, and asked that policies pertaining to customers be posted in city hall. Mayor Polis said she will see to it.
Councilman Tom Haynes made a motion that the city change its policy on adjustments as well. The current policy is that if customers do have leaks on their property, the city will give them an adjustment on their bill. The adjustment is calculated by taking the average usage over several months and using that as a basis for the monthly billing. That amount is counted as the regular bill. However, all the water that goes through the meter is billed and must be paid for, but the excess amount is billed at a discounted rate. Haynes’s motion, which would have required the city to take a larger loss on customers’ leaks, died for lack of a second.
In other business, the council accepted bids for engineering service on four city water projects. Nesbitt Engineering of Lexington, which has been working with the city on rebuilding the city water plant and other projects, submitted the only bids for all four projects and the council voted individually to accept Nesbitt’s proposal on each project. The projects are: Phase I of the Waterline Improvement Project, Phase II of the Waterline Improvement Project, the Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade, and the Sewer Rehab Project.
Angie Mullins of the Kentucky River Area Development District presented the bids to the council and suggested that it hold a work session to decide which projects it wants to move forward with next. Mullins said that the bid cycle for Community Development Block Grants and Appalachian Regional Commission Grants will end on July 1, and the council will need to move quickly to take advantage of those opportunities. She added that KDBG grants require a more time-consuming process, including interviews with customers.
Mullins also told the council that the sewer system is under an agreed order and said it should keep the possibility of penalties in mind if it doesn’t begin to address the items named in the order. An agreed order refers to a written agreement submitted by the parties to a case resolving the issues between them. Once the agreed order is approved by the court and entered in its minutes, it becomes the order or decree of the court with all of the force and effect that any order would have after a full hearing prior to adjudication.
Ken Reid of Nesbitt Engineering, who works regularly with the Fleming-Neon water department, said the recent problems with municipal water providers in Kentucky have increased the state’s interest. He said the loss of water in Martin County for a period of weeks had pointed out the need for helping communities with water issues. The council set a work session for 10 a.m. on March 28. At that time council members will work with Mullins to determine their next steps.