Hanger decision

Ishpeming City Council votes to amend utility billing policy

Ishpeming City Councilman Pat Scanlon, second from right, shares his views on a proposed update to the city’s water billing policy as Department of Public Works Director Carl Petersen, left City Councilor Stu Skauge and City Attorney Bonnie Hoff, far right, look on. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

ISHPEMING — Water customers who are late paying their bills in the city of Ishpeming now will face an additional $25 fee.

The Ishpeming City Council, in a 4-to-1 vote during its regular meeting on Wednesday, approved an amendment to its utility billing and payment process policy to include a $25 door hanger fee.

Under the policy, water bills are due 25 days after the billing date as posted on the bill. If the bill goes unpaid, a penalty of 5 percent of the past-due balance is added when the next bill is prepared.

“If a past due utility balance remains unpaid at the time the current bill is due, a door hanger for the total amount owed will be issued,” the policy states. “This door hanger will allow 72 hours as a final payment window prior to disconnection of service. After 72 hours, the account balance and door hanger fee is not paid in full, the city may shut off utility service.”

Councilman Stu Skauge, who voted against the measure, and who had initiated the elimination of the fee in 2018, said the fee puts an extra burden on those people who can least afford it.

“I can’t see why we have to charge for the hanger. The people are obviously already having a problem paying the bill,” Skauge said. “We have a lot of seniors that are paying the bill and the minimum right now for the water, sewer and garbage is about $45. If you add $50 or even $25, that is a lot of extra money. I still feel that there should be no fee for the hanger itself.”

Other council members were concerned how much the fee should be, but suggested it was necessary due to its inclusion in a 5-year deficit elimination plan for the city’s water fund.

“I would like to just get back to the plan, for the deficit elimination,” Councilman Pat Scanlon said. “The promise to the department of treasury included it, I found out, and that may affect us for grants and stuff.”

The city’s water fund was found to be in deficit in 2015, due in part to freeze related damages during fiscal year 2014, according to a previous article in The Mining Journal.

The plan, required by the Michigan Department of Treasury, is designed to eliminate the deficit in the fund within five years of when the deficit occurred.

The city’s water bill collection policy, Scanlon noted, is already one of the most lenient in the county.

“I did a little research on the county area, and we are the only ones that are not currently doing it (charging for door hangers),” Scanlon said. “One municipality right now, their collection is two days, five days, disconnect. No payment plans, no nothing. So I think that the present collection program we have before you is very lenient. It gives payment plans, it gives grace.

“I don’t think the hurt is going to go on the people who pay their bill (on time). These are the people that were raised right, so they take care of things.”