Baker alters overdue water bill rules

The City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to give Baker residents more time to pay their municipal utility bills while also reducing the penalty for paying their bills late.

Council members Robert Young, John Givens, Charles Vincent and Joyce Burges voted for the measure. Councilman Peter Heine cast the single dissenting vote.

The new policy reduces the late penalty from $60 to $30 per late bill. The $25 reconnect fee will remain the same.

Residents will also have until 8 a.m. on the eighth day after their bills become overdue to pay before they are put on the “cutoff list.”

Under the old rule, late payments had to be received before 4:30 p.m. one week after the bill became overdue. Public Works Director Julie McCulloch explained that payments are overdue the day after the “regular due date” as listed on the bill.

“This is part of making our city a citizen-friendly city,” Vincent said. He added that under the new ordinance, the city will no longer guarantee that people whose utilities are disconnected because of nonpayment will be reconnected the same day that they pay their overdue bills.

Heine said that every month, the same people seem to show up on the utility disconnection list for nonpayment of bills. He argued that the list would grow with a reduced fee.

“We are taking a calculated financial risk with this. It’s going to cost a tremendous amount of money,” Heine said. The city’s fire rating is also partially dependent on the solvency of the water utility, Heine added.

Baker Fire Chief Danny Edwards agreed. “We are barely into a No. 2. If we go back to a No. 3, it will cost the taxpayers $150,000 per year,” he said.

Mayor Harold Rideau also voiced his opposition to the ordinance. “I think this will create difficulties for the Utility Department. I can’t as mayor tell someone with little kids that they’re not going to get their water back on” the same day they pay their bill, he said.

“This might help some people. If it’s hurting the city, we can always revisit” the ordinance, Givens said.

“It’s hard to undo something once you’ve done it,” the mayor said.

Other matters before the council included:

COUNCIL CLERK: The council voted unanimously to appoint Angela Canady as council clerk.