By REID TUCKER
A request from a Paxton water customer for a one-time bill waiver once again restarted discussion among the Town Council regarding the city’s bill forgiveness policy.
Paxton’s longstanding policy allows for the once-per-lifetime waiver of an unusually high water bill (usually due to problems with the water line or by a slow, unnoticed leak) by scaling back the amount due to be paid. Rather than eliminating a bill altogether, the city instead charges the customer the same amount as their average monthly bill.
The problem, as several members of the Council described it at their Jan. 15 meeting, is that in years past some customers often requested waivers on multiple occasions, whether as a way to work the system or because their income was insufficient to pay for high water bills when accidents happen. In response, the Council several years ago passed an ordinance limiting water bill waivers to one-time-only options.
However, Councilmen Tommy Mathis and Bobby Kemp said that move didn’t solve the problem completely, as the situation is such that some fixed-income customers would not be able to pay a high water bill even if they were willing to do so. Alternatively, other customers that, as the board members said, have the money to pay even repeatedly high water bills and should therefore not always be allowed the same bill forgiveness rights as lower-income customers.
Therefore, Kemp said he and the rest of the Council were definitely interested in looking into a case-by-case screening system to help those who need help the most. A motion to have City Attorney Lori Bytell look into the matter and to provide feedback as to possible changes to the city ordinances relating to the water system met with unanimous approval when put to the vote.
“This is something that needs to be taken care of, but not on account of the people who can afford [to pay their bills all the time],” Kemp said. “I’m talking about the people who cannot afford it. People drawing $600 or $800 a month cannot afford such as that. I’m for the people less fortunate than we are.”
The remainder of the meeting was devoted to handling old business, which primarily involved an update by Mayor Hayward Thomas on the progress of renovations to the city’s stock barn. Thomas said work was coming right along, with the exterior of the building completely painted in primer awaiting additional coats. The Council unanimously agreed to purchase 26-gauge metal roofing with a galvanized finish (in order to maintain the barn’s historical appearance) for the building from Baker Metal Works & Supply, Inc., the low-bidder on the project.
There was also some talk of eventually having the stock barn submitted for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places upon completion of the building’s renovation.
The agenda at the meeting was also to have included a presentation on City Resolution 12-03, which deals with updated employee policies. However, Bytell, who was to present the report to the Council, was not in attendance at the meeting and so further discussion on the resolution was tabled until the next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19.