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Council deals with water woes and new city manager
by Jacob Lane · December 18, 2013


The city council discussed two water issues during the public correspondence part of its Dec. 3 meeting and approved a new search schedule for a permanent city manager.

To begin, a lengthy back and forth between the council and Steve Alpen, representing the Country Heights Home Owner Association (CHHOA) heated up as the debate wore on.

According to Alpen, the CHHOA discovered a water leak on its property after an uneven balance in water usage was found between the residents' water bills and the association's master water meter on the property.

The development just began using city water a few years ago and entered into an agreement with the city to pay for its usage.

However, the city didn't check the meter in August or September. It wasn't until residents called CHHOA that the city came to check the meter, where it was learned that $1,700 worth of excessive water had leaked.

"In the meantime we've got four months worth of over $2,000 in water bills which, if we had known about [the leak] we could have fixed it," said Alpen, "[The city] read the meter in May, June, and July, but in August and September they did not read it. I guess we’re looking at it like this; this water bill would not be this large if we would have known about [the leak]. We fixed it the day that we knew."

Mayor Chad Thomas acknowledged that CHHOA was quick to make the fix, but pointed out that the association received 2.2 million gallons of water for free during an 11 month period from 2012 to 2013.

"So you didn't pay for any of the water between June 2012 and May of 2013?" asked Mayor Thomas.

"That's correct," replied Alpen.

In a verbal agreement between CHHOA and the city last June, around 30 residents of the subdivision were to install water meters in order to be billed by the city; however, the task was not fully completed until the next summer. Due to confusion between both parties they did not pay for water during that period.

"I'm just saying that you got a lot of water for free, to come in here and then complain about a small amount of overage in comparison is a little gulling to me," said Mayor Thomas.

"I guess I don't consider over $2,000 worth a small amount," replied Alpen.

"What do you think a year's worth of water would be for that entire development? It's a lot more than $2,000," said Mayor Thomas.

The council took over the debate, attempting to clear up how the meters went unread, and why the development went so long with free water.

Eventually, council member Melody Russell moved that if the residents divide the fees for the 2.2 million gallons of water usage between July to June, then the council will reimburse them for the $2,000 worth of leaked water from August to September 2013. The motion passed 4-1, with Bill Cline abstaining.

Next, the council approved splitting a water bill with Bob Cline, part owner of the Mobile Village.

According to Cline, he evicted a tenant a year ago, but was never informed that the water remained on where she had lived, resulting in frozen and broken pipes.

The tenant paid the final electricity bill and told the city to unhook her electricity. However, the city did not inform Cline that the water in her unit remained on. Until this point he said the city had been good about informing him about such things.

"I think that's where the real problem is, it's not the dollar amount so much as the lack of communication," Cline told the council." We went down there in March… it had water everywhere, we realized the electricity had been turned off, but the water hadn't been."

Cline agreed to pay half of the $445 bill for leaving the water on if the city would pay the other half. His biggest concern was making sure it wouldn't happen again.

"There's a system in place now to prevent that from happening again," said Police Chief and Interim City Manager Lawrence McNaul. "When a tenant moves out, the utilities are switched over to the landlord; that's to prevent the pipes from freezing, et cetera, like we heard in this situation."

"Just to clarify, that's unless the landlord opts out," added Mayor Thomas. "The landlord has to contact city hall and say, 'I don't want the utilities to be transferred over to my name.'"

Council Member Bill Cline motioned to pay half of the total bill, and the council approved 4-1 with Hartman voting against.

Finally, the council approved a new search schedule for the next permanent city manager of West Liberty. The schedule was submitted by Vorhees Associates LLC, who will be in charge of finding and presenting candidates to the council.

Public advertising for the position will begin Dec. 5-Jan. 18. Resumes will be received from Dec. 5 - Jan. 21 and interviews by the company will occur Dec. 15 - Jan. 31.

On Feb. 5 they'll select around 10-12 candidates and present them to the council on Feb. 18. After a final interview with the top five or six in March a new city manger should be employed by May 1.

"I like the revised schedule, I think that it's important to have all five council members present during that," said Hartman, regarding the final interviews on March 14-15.

The new schedule pushed back many of the dates around a month; however, since most major financial decisions will be made before April anyway, Mayor Thomas believes the schedule will be beneficial.

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