Clerical error cost Walker $2,000 per month; fixed Monday

The Walker City Council voted Monday to fix a clerical error for commercial sewer fee increases approved in June that officials said was costing the city about $2,000 a month.

The council voted in June to increase city fees for utility services, including sewer rates for commercial businesses.

The new fee structure called for the city in 2013 to charge businesses $18.50 for first 3,000 gallons businesses used and $1.85 for every 1,000 additional gallons used.

The secondary rate is where the mistake was made, Walker Chief of Operations Fred Raiford told the council.

The city used to charge $1.50 for the additional 1,000 gallons, but the council increased that rate by 35 cents to $1.85, Raiford said.

City officials submitted a fee structure chart to the Louisiana Rural Water Association, which helps Walker manage its water systems, that accidentally listed the old rate as 15 cents instead of $1.50, Raiford said.

The association adjusted the 15-cent rate by 35 cents — the increase approved by the council — to 50 cents and submitted it back to the city, Raiford said. In turn, the city’s rate accidentally fell by a dollar.

The significantly reduced rate was put in place in September, Raiford said. It cost the city about $2,000 a month, or $8,000 total over four months.

The incorrect rate was nothing more than a typo, Raiford said. He said he was not sure how officials did not catch the mistake before January.

“You can put me on the barbecue pit and grill me,” Raiford said. “That’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that.”

Mayor Rick Ramsey told the council the significantly reduced rate caused the city to spend more money on processing commercial water bills than collecting money for the services.

“That’s giving away city services, which we’re not allowed to do,” Ramsey said.

The council voted unanimously Monday to change the fee schedule back to the $1.85 rate approved in June.

Ramsey said the city would not charge residents the money retroactively, considering it was the city’s mistake.

In similar business Monday, the council also voted to scale back some increases in commercial building and planning fees approved in June.

The fees were decreased from $8 per $1,000 of estimated value of a new building to $3 per $1,000 of value.

Raiford said the city devised the $8 rate after examining building rates in Hammond and Mandeville. He said city officials looked at those cities because Walker was trying to prepare for future population growth.

But commercial builders later told city officials the rate was too high, Raiford said.

City officials decided to adjust the fee to a rate similar to cities like Denham Springs, Zachary and Central, Raiford said.

The council approved the change unanimously.