Council: Grace for unpaid bills must end

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

The City of Lebanon plans to send notices via mail and phone calls to residents who are in jeopardy of getting their water shut off due to unpaid bills.
City Council members agreed Sept. 9, at their monthly meeting, that lock-offs of city utilities should start in October, unless residents respond to the notifications from the city.
The city has stopped doing lock-offs and issuing penalties for nonpayment of water and sewer service since March due to the pandemic.
Matt Apken, finance director, told councilors that he contacted multiple other cities to see how they are handling the same situation. Those cities have either reinstated lock-offs or are planning to do so by October, he said.
“Most of them are doing the thing that we talked about last time in being very flexible with paying options if they are locked off, so that way they can get on some type of plan to move forward,” Apken said.
The city also searched for funding sources to help those who cannot pay their bills, but were unable to locate any service available for that kind of assistance, he said.
As many as 131 residents are more three months past due on their water bills, but 119 of them are “repeat offenders,” he said, indicating only a small percentage of residents may be unable to pay their bills due to COVID.
Councilor Karen Stauder said she’s asked people in the community their thoughts on the issue.
“Though they all agree it’s unfortunate when someone can’t pay their bill, they also understand the perspective of people allowing people to get buried further and further behind; you can’t dig out of that. In the end, everybody I talked to felt like it was a responsibility that people had to do, and just make a payment plan,” she said.
Councilors Stauder and Rebecca Grizzle, and Mayor Paul Aziz agreed lock-offs should be reinstated by October, as long as a payment plan can be made available to customers who approach the city and ask for help.
Councilors Michelle Steinhebel and Robert Furlow expressed concern that shutting off water in the midst of a pandemic is not a good idea.
Apken said he hopes that water would not be shut off any longer than a day, as those residents will – he expects – approach the city and ask for help.
“I don’t think it’s in anybody’s best interest that we continue to bury people deeper, especially if we can help you if you’ll contact us,” Grizzle said.

In other business, councilors:
♦ Approved the annexation of .72 acres of property property located at 2120 Stoltz Hill Road, a residential mixed density zone;
♦ Approved to adopt a cyber security policy for the purpose of purchasing increased cyber security insurance that covers theft, loss or unauthorized disclosure of personally identifiable nonpublic information under the management of the City of Lebanon;
♦ Corrected an error on the recently updated city fees schedule for tentative and final plat fees;
♦ Approved a resolution to refinance the wastewater DEQ loan along with another loan that will ultimately save the City more than $400,000 in the next 10 years in payments;
♦ Approved the Owner’s Representative and Administrative Oversite Contract with David Evans and Associates for Phase V of the Westside Interceptor Project;
♦ Discussed the current situation at the wastewater treatment plant. The city took over the plant as of Sept. 1, and retained five of the employees formerly held by Jacobs, Inc. as temporary city employees. They also entered into a three-month contract with James Allred to act as Designated Person in Charge of the Plant. City staff is assessing maintenance needs at the plant. They turned the cannibal system off and are returning to the aerobic digester. The city is working on an IGA with the City of Albany to continue managing solid waste, but Interim City Manager Ron Whitlatch questions whether that will even be needed as they look at other options.