The Clinton City Council listened to citizens' complaints. From left to right, In gray sweatshirt, Councilwoman Phyllis Campbell, next to her Mayor Fred Cox and in blue jacket, Councilman Howard Dillard.
That’s the question that angry Clinton citizens asked the Clinton City Council at their meeting on Monday evening. Eight local residents brought horror stories of multiple bills in one month, late charges on each of the bills and shut offs.
The Council’s answer: “No one.”
A resident said that his water bill almost equaled his house payment. “Mine is more than my house payment” said another.
One woman said that her water was cut off in February, 2009. Her bill, which had been a steady $45 a month for ten years, suddenly ballooned to $180 a month. She fell behind, she told the Council and the water company would not take payments. The month her water was turned off, she received a bill for $600. The next month was $700. The bill she received on April 6th, the day of the Council meeting was a $1000. How could she pay that amount and get her water turned back on?
One man said he turned his water off before the ice storm in February because he feared busted pipes. He received a bill for $180 for the month of February. The man said he was thinking of moving out of his home to low income housing because he could not afford medicine and water under the current situation.
Another showed his bill to the Council. He had paid $316.20, in full through March 31st according to a representative of Utilities, Inc. His new bill, six days later, was for $80. He said it was not uncommon to get three bills in one month – each with late charges.
City Council member Mickey Beck understood the problem. He told the group that his bill went from $50 a month to $138 a month. When he contacted the Utilities, Inc. billing office in Middlesboro, he was told the bill was "estimated." How, he wondered aloud, do you get an estimate of $138 from a $50 bill?
As far as late charges, Clinton residents complained that the late charges made no sense. There can be multiple late charges on one bill. They don’t double, or triple. “They aren’t static” as one resident put it. “They can be $7, then $8, then $27.”
The Council urged disgruntled residents to contact the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office with their complaints about the water company and to contact the Kentucky Public Service Commission about the proposed rate increase.
Residents also complained about the sewer rate. Resident Pam Freeman told the group that “you can blame the people sitting here for the sewer rates”.
Mickey Beck disagreed. “You can blame the EPA – they’re the ones who came in and said we had to fix the sewers”.
The fix cost $3.4 million dollars. 80% of that amount, according to Kim DiRenard, the Purchase Area Development representative, that handled the sewer refinance was grant money. Clinton had to borrow $1,312,000 and is paying it back through the increased sewer rate on a forty year note. The sewer rate is calculated to charge 133% of water usage.
DiRenard said that 133% is standard. Clinton “was one of the last communities in the Purchase Region that had a flat rate.” Fulton and Wickliffe also have percentage calculated sewer rates.
Residents who asked about digging a well were told it is legal to do so in the city. It is not legal to install a septic tank in the city. Digging a well would mean a flat rate sewer bill, but that would lead to increases for everyone because the available income for debt service would drop.
The Council said it would attempt to get someone from Utilities, Inc. in Middlesboro to attend the May meeting of the City Council to explain billing procedures to residents.
Those having trouble with their water bills are urged to call the Public Service Commission at 1-800-772-4636 and lodge an informal complaint.