Solution for $19,000 water bill in the works

ISHPEMING — An Ishpeming couple will need to wait a little bit longer to resolve a nearly $19,000 water bill.

The Ishpeming City Council voted on Wednesday to table a proposed catastrophic water loss policy, until its June meeting, and to negotiate with property owners Ashley and Matt Cody separately.

The large bill was caused by a broken pipe in the crawl space of the Codys’ rental home which went undetected by the tenant, the Codys and the city for two months expelling about a million gallons of water.

The situation went viral when Ashley Cody posted a picture of the bill on her Facebook page resulting in thousands of reactions and hundreds of shares and comments.

Cody, speaking during public comment, thanked the council for its efforts to address the situation.

“I am happy to see that you are taking the steps to develop a policy that protects and assists city residents,” Cody said. “With that being said. I would like to address the topic of communication. As you well know, my Facebook post has been out there. And, recently, very recently, from a few social media conversations, it was conveyed that we would not be held responsible — with limits of course — and something was in the works. Unfortunately, no one let us know in three weeks, and I received the paper bill. I kindly ask for you to take into consideration on just how devastating it is to receive a bill for $18,709 with an almost $1,000 late fee. I understand that (the city has to) send a bill. But I was given an approximate shut-off date sometime during summer. Until my post, we have not heard from anyone besides a ‘Don’t give up’ and a slap on the back… Yes, I could have reached out again to you guys, but a quick phone call to me, the property owner, could have been made. This has been an extremely troubled time, and I am sure you are all too, ready for this to be over.”

If applied to the Codys’ situation, the proposed policy would have reduced the $18,709 balance to about $300 — three times the amount of their average monthly water bill — a solution that didn’t sit well with some members of the council.

Councilor Mike Tonkin called the proposed policy, and its application to the Codys’ situation a “Pandora’s Box,” as the city’s responsibility to supply water to residents, and an equitable consistent solution should be sought.

“I have always said that there has got to be a way to come up with a system that works fair in both directions. You are responsible for what happens in your home,” Tonkin said. “…We are here on behalf of the city. We have certain responsibilities as a city. And also, people have the responsibility to take care of their own stuff.”

The one-time forgiveness built into the policy should reflect the price the city pays to provide the water coming in from the Negaunee-Ishpeming Water Authority and treat the wastewater going out, he said.

“It costs the city .0025 cents per gallon for water. If you multiply this out, for a million gallons, it costs the city $2,500 (to buy that water). It costs the city roughly 75 percent of that to treat that water when it goes through the sewer, which would be $1,850,” Tonkin said. “Which leaves a grand total of $4,350. That is about what it costs the citizens of Ishpeming to provide 1 million gallons of water. Now, if we were to recoup that cost, it’s fair to everybody.”

According to the bill, the city forgave an additional $13,756 for sewer treatment. The Codys and councilors who visited the site confirmed that the water from the broken pipe went into the ground and not into the city’s sanitary sewer system.

Councilor Pat Scanlon, who helped draft the initial policy, proposed the solution for Cody.

“I am of a mind to sit down with the Codys. Set up a one-year, interest free, more than $300 less than $2,500. Maybe something that will help you guys out. If you want to come in, I would be glad to sit in with the mayor and the manager,” Scanlon said.

Mayor Karl Lehmann who initially recommended a catastrophic water loss policy in March, said he never envisioned the city would be facing a situation in which a resident used one million gallons of water.

“I would say I am disappointed because we have been trying for months to come up with a policy,” Lehmann said. “But because we have such a large volume of water in one instance I think it’s opened our eyes to other potential aspects to this whole thing. But I am still disappointed for the little lady out on Michigan Street that might have a frozen water pipe.”

Radio-read water meters, which would alert the city’s Department of Public Works when a problem occurs and allow them to shut the water off to a location remotely, are the city’s long-term solution, he said.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today