WEST ALEXANDRIA — Village Council discussed policy regarding overdue utility bills and efforts to reduce legal expenditures during its regular monthly meeting on Monday, Aug. 16.
Village Administrator Adam Beneke raised concerns about overdue water service bills during council’s June 21 meeting, saying that many residents had fallen behind in payments during “that whole stretch where there were no shut-offs, and no penalties, because of [COVID-19].”
Beneke indicated that the village would soon begin enforcing water service shut-offs for residents who fail to abide by a payment plan. Council member Zach Shafer asked why service to delinquent residents hadn’t been shut off already; Mayor Jeff Hickey responded that municipalities often make more money by charging late fees than disconnecting service.
Council president Ashley Myers asked Beneke to compile a list of delinquent residents to submit to the Preble County Auditor’s Office; overdue balances owed by those residents could then be assessed against the residents’ property taxes.
Myers also suggested drafting a resolution listing the names of delinquent residents to be read aloud during a public meeting, a measure supported by Shafer. Councilman Dan Utsinger, meanwhile, likened the practice to branding residents with “a Scarlet Letter.”
Beneke reported on Monday that the village had received “a great deal of help from our residents” in bringing overdue accounts up to date. Beneke also stated that he intended to give remaining delinquent residents until the end of the month to make payment before forwarding their accounts to the county auditor.
Council again discussed efforts to reduce the village’s legal expenditures. Shafer initially suggested cutting the $31,000 per year the village reportedly pays to the Columbus-based firm which handles its legal representation in Nov. 2020 as a possible means of increasing funding to the police department.
Shafer called attention to dwindling funds in the village’s legal account in May.
“We’re gonna be down to $3 or $4,000 soon, and we’re not even halfway through the year,” Shafer said then.
Shafer officially suggested that the village choose a new law firm on Monday, stating that efforts to reduce expenditures with the village’s current solicitor – such as requiring village employees to consult with Mayor Hickey before reaching out for legal advice – had not been successful.
Mayor Hickey suggested that the village finish out 2021 with its current legal representation. Hickey noted that the position of Mayor and multiple council seats would be up for election in November.
“I think that, whatever we decide, the new council and either myself or the next mayor should be have a role in those discussions,” Hickey said, to which Shafer and Utsinger agreed.
New ambulance purchase
EMS Chief Tom Smith updated council on efforts to sell one of the village’s ambulances. Council voted to move forward with the purchase of a new ambulance in May, with council members Shannon Smith, Geoff Justice and Holly Robbins voting for the purchase and Shafer, Utsinger and Myers voting against. Mayor Hickey then broke the resulting tie with his own “yes” vote.
Smith first suggested purchasing the new vehicle in April, stating that the department’s two current ambulances were approaching nine and seven years old, with roughly 87,000 and 40,000 miles on the odometer, respectively.
Smith informed the council on Monday that he would be posting pictures of the department’s older ambulance on the website GovDeals.com in the coming week.
Village Council meetings take place the third Monday of each month at the Fire & EMS office, located at 8 Marty Ln.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish