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Water customers feel 'soaked' by billing date

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Orchard City residents told trustees that it is the town's water customers themselves who have gotten soaked by higher water charges because new rates were implemented ahead of the promised schedule.

The revelation was one of several complaints presented to trustees at a second consecutive boisterous business meeting on May 10. For the second month in a row, a uniformed sheriff's deputy was summoned to stand by and monitor the proceedings.

Town hall staff told the DCI following the meeting that the presence of the uniformed deputy was arranged in advance when it became clear that the winds of disaffection were brewing among citizens over several issues. At last month's trustee meeting, deputies were summoned after the meeting had already gotten under way.

The issues drawing constituents' comment, and in some cases voters' wrath, were the following ones:

• The town's error-plagued rollout of a water rate increase was slammed once again as it has been in previous meetings. Rate payers blamed the town for charging higher rates prior to the promised May 1 start date.

The problem this time as explained to trustees is that some residents were hoping to beat the rate increase and wring the last drop of value priced water from the town's domestic utility. So, they proceeded to give their gardens and greenery a good soaking at lower water rates leading up to the stated May 1 imposition of the higher rates. But, the town read its customers' water meters during the last three days of April. That left some water users stuck paying the higher rates for their extra high water use during end-of-April days and prior to the town's official May 1 start date for beginning the new higher water rates.

It was said to be an instance of overbilling and a practice barred by statute. A correction to water users' bills was called for by one speaker.

Town Hall staff told the DCI following the meeting that water meters are always read during the last three days of the month.

Trustee Dick Kirkpatrick, a member of the water committee, explained he had not realized that water meters would be read earlier than the May 1 declared start date for the higher rates.

• Trustees Tom Huerkamp and Gynee Thomassen were appointed as a "cannabis revenue research committee." The move is intended only "to get information," explained Mayor Ken Volgamore.

Constituents earlier in the May 10 meeting had told trustees that "we don't need" marijuana in Orchard City. One constituent said that marijuana users should recuse themselves from serving on the cannabis revenue research committee. Huerkamp has publicly declared his use of medical marijuana.

• Trustees were asked why it takes no vote of the people to allow marijuana businesses in town, but a vote is required to impose or raise taxes. Huerkamp responded it is because state law requires a vote to impose or raise taxes.

• Another issue drawing residents' ire was a five-unit, "tiny house" development being constructed at 2100 and Iris roads which neighbors said they had no advance notice of. (See related story.)

In other, less controversial business the Orchard City Town Board also dealt with the following matters:

• Trustees will conduct a review of policy on roving water taps. Being discussed is a time limitation on use of the taps.

• Trustees approved an agreement for summer youth sports use of the Field of Dreams.

• Trustees approved ordinance 2017-02 relating to replat of subdivision lots.

• An out-of-town water tap was approved.

• The town administrator responding to a complaint explained that meeting agendas and minutes have not been posted online this year because of computer malfunctions. She apologized and promised the issue would be fixed.

• Two new trees have been planted at Orchard City Park, trustees were told.

• Shouldering was completed on 2100 Road.

• Trustees are reviewing road maintenance reports prepared by the roads committee.

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Orchard City, water rates
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