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City of Morris could enforce meter repairs

MORRIS – Some Morris residents are going months – and in some instances, years – with broken water meters, and it is a cause for concern among city officials.

The Morris Water and Sewer Committee discussed Wednesday drafting a new ordinance that would enforce the city’s need to replace faulty water meters within homes. 

When a meter breaks, the city sends out several notices urging the homeowner to grant the city the access it needs to replace the faulty meter.

If the resident does not comply, then the water department will estimate that resident’s bill higher every month to account for faulty readings.

Charging the resident more is the city’s way to ensure it receives proper payment.

“The city has to estimate to make sure they are getting enough money,” Brad Nolden of the city attorney’s office said during the meeting. “It’s better to charge too much and give it back to them in credit then it is to come up short.”

As is stands, the amount a water bill is increased is subjective, as no ordinance exists regarding broken meters. Beth Walker, deputy clerk of the water department, said she will increase the bill gradually to give the resident time to schedule a repair with the city.

But some residents take several months to respond.

“We’ve had some people go on for years,” Walker said to the committee.

Walker suggested drafting a more concrete and consistent set of rules to ensure meters are repaired in a timely fashion.

Functional meters are essential as they ensure the city will not overcharge, or undercharge, a resident.

Committee members discussed potentially shutting the water off to any residents who did not set up a meter repair within a reasonable time.

“If you have a meter in your house that’s not working, and I tell you that you need to let us in to change the meter, then I give you six months,” Alderman and committee member Julian Houston said.  “If you don’t do it, I’ll cut your water off.”

The committee also discussed putting a reoccurring penalty in place.

The discussion to draft an ordinance was spurred by a recent situation regarding residents who did not schedule a repair until more than seven months after their meter broke, Walker said.

During that period, the city contacted the residents repeatedly by sending letters and speaking to them in person.

After the meter was replaced last month, the city found it overcharged the residents by roughly $400 during the time their meter was broken. The homeowners are now requesting a credit in the amount they were over-billed.

Walker said similar situations have occurred in the past.

“We really need to have a policy on this,” Walker said. “What happens if we go there, and we under bill them by 40,000 gallons? Do I bill them extra or do I not?”

Nolden said he would look into the legality of enacting a penalty before the committee drafts any new ordinances.

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