April 15, 2024

Water board interested in formalizing utility billing agreement

Creston Waterworks Board approved Tuesday to instigate discussion with the city of Creston of updating and formalizing billing procedures for billing of water, sewer and garbage fees.

Creston Waterworks General Manager Steve Guthrie said he will send a letter today to the city requesting discussion with city officials for a utility billing agreement.

“As of right now, we don’t have anything legally binding. It prevents duplication of services,” he said. “All I want to do is start a conversation.” Guthrie said the procedures and responsibilities go back decades.

The letter states Creston Waterworks agrees to provide all billing activities for the collection of the city’s sewer and garbage and refuse collections; cover the costs of all paper and billing stock associated with said billing activities; pay for the postage to mail the monthly bills; enforce cash collections of the city’s sewer and garbage collections; transfer all revenue, minus Creston Water’s portion, to the city at the end of each month.

The city of Creston agrees to pay Creston Waterworks $3,000 a month service billed to be withheld from collected proceeds that are transferred to the city each month; allow Creston Waterworks to retain all penalties and connection fees; abide by all Creston Waterworks policies concerning billing, delinquency, and disconnection; cover all costs concerning any change in the type of monthly bill mailed to each customer including the extra postage; refer any customer complaints to the Creston Waterworks business office in a prompt manner; administer any sewer or garbage forgiveness program.

Guthrie said the $3,000 amount is only a number to begin negotiations.

“I think it would make it cleaner,” said board chairman John Tapken about an agreement between the city and Creston Water. Guthrie agreed.

“It doesn’t duplicate services for the customers or either utility,” he said. Guthrie said all other water policy would still be under the water board, like shut off.

The letter continues stating the agreement shall be reviewed and renewed every five years from the effective date. It will automatically rollover to another five-year term, if no changes are needed. The cost services shall increase 3% July 1 of every year to account for inflation. The first increase shall be July 1, 2024.

Creston Water and the city can terminate this agreement by providing a written 90-day notice.

In a related matter, Guthrie said a delay from a software provider did not allow water to take credit card payments which was supposed to start March 1. Creston Waterworks will take credit card payments including 3.5% service fee. Customers can pay their bill via telephone and receive text alerts. Guthrie was optimistic the new services will be in use in April.

“We are trying to expand as many electronic options and make it as easy as possible for customers to pay. Right now we are waiting for implementation from our software people,” Guthrie said. “It’s been slow.”

In other water board action...

Board members approved a 24-month payment plan for a delinquent account. In February, an account holder in the 300 block of North Spruce informed the board of his high water bill because of a frozen pipe. The person said he does not have the finances to pay for the payment plan, which are offered in 12 or 24-month installments. The account said he planned to meet with other agencies about financially assisting him.

Guthrie said Tuesday he has no evidence those meetings were held.

The board approved in February to table the issue but still have the account pay the monthly bill plus $50. The account holder had since made a payment. Board member Mark Eblen had the only no vote to table because of setting a precedent. The board may review its delinquent account options in the future.

Creston Mayor Gabe Carroll who was in attendance Tuesday told the board the city’s finance committee was not interested in forgiving the account’s city-related utility bills.

Guthrie said there is one chemical used for the water treatment plant that is becoming harder to acquire because of supply-chain issues. Guthrie said there are other options he will use and not lose water quality.

Guthrie said the 3 Mile Lake water capacity was down 42.5 inches Feb. 28. As of Tuesday it has raised 3 inches from recent snow.

“It’s filling back up. For normal operating level, it is not unusual to be 12 to 24 inches down this time of year,” he said.

Board member Melissa Driskell was absent.

John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.