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Ishpeming City Council sets catastrophic water-use policy

From left, Ishpeming city councilors Pat Scanlon and Stu Skauge, Mayor Mike Tonkin and Councilor Lindsay Bean discuss the city’s one-time leak/high-usage adjustment policy during a meeting on Wednesday. The council unanimously approved the policy, which allows city water customers to apply for one-time billing adjustments. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

ISHPEMING — The Ishpeming City Council approved a policy Wednesday that will allow a one-time adjustment to residential water bills in the event of a leak or high usage.

Ishpeming water customers in owner-occupied residential properties are able to apply for a one-time credit in the event they experience a bill that is at least $1,000 above the 12-month average consumption for that residence, Ishpeming Interim City Manager Steve Snowaert said.

“Nobody is going to be relieved of the full amount,” Snowaert said. “Only back to the $1,000 over the 12-month average. And then we do give residents six months in order to pay the bill and get it up to current. We also put a provision in there that if there is a $500 to $1,000 overage of your average bill, there are no adjustments, but we will give residents six months in order to catch up doing that, but we are not making an adjustment for less.”

Under the terms of the leak adjustment policy, the cause of the leak must be identified, inspected and repaired by a licensed plumber as applicable as well as the city’s department of public works prior to an adjustment being issued. The policy also states that any leak adjustments must be approved by the city manager before the bill is adjusted. Residents have the right to appeal the decision of the manager to the city council.

Councilor Lindsay Bean, who served on the committee that drafted the policy, said the policy does not address businesses or rental properties at this time.

“We could certainly address income properties at a later date,” Bean said. “The purpose of this … we were specifically addressing owner-occupied (residences) in 2020. What can we do to lessen the hardship of that in a fair manner?”

Bean said under current water rates, about 40,000 gallons equals $1,000.

“To put that into context … 40,000 gallons would fill a 25-by-50 foot pool at a 4-foot depth. So, that’s a lot of water,” Bean said.

The policy states that no adjustments will be granted in the event that high water use is caused by seasonal activities such as watering of sod, gardening, filling swimming pools or whirlpools, washing vehicles or pressure washing houses or decks.

The issue of “catastrophic” water bills came to light in April, when Ishpeming residents Matt and Ashley Cody received a bill of nearly $19,000 for one month of water usage at a rental property they owned.

The council narrowly approved an agreement with the Codys in May to reduce their “catastrophic” bill to about $2,500.

Snowaert said the goal of the city is to equip all water customers with radio-read meters, which would allow the city to read meters electronically, as well as determine flow.

“I think when that does happen, there will be no need for this policy,” he said. “But at this point this is what we have come up with.”

He said the city staff has been working with GEI Consultants Inc. to submit an application for a $250,000 Distressed Cities grant from the Michigan Department of Treasury, which will fund the purchase and deployment of radio meters in about 30% of the homes in the city.

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

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