After months of efforts to get past due utility balances paid, the City of Peterson has certified the past due balances to the county for addition to property tax rolls. The problem has been an ongoing source of frustration for the city.
In October 2016, the council voted in favor of assessing of delinquent utility bills to property taxes at a rate of 4%. Last November, the council approved a policy update that included that any bill not paid by or before the date indicated would be subject to a late fee of 1% of the past due balance. Additional details approved in the policy stated that overdue bills to renters were ultimately payable by the property owner.
When the city began discussing the process again this past August, 21 properties had received notification letters citing the delinquency. Past due balances were $8,686.25. By the September 13 council meeting, 14 parcels remained past due with the collective amount increasing to $10,139. Last month, new data indicated 18 parcels past due. The amount due had soared to $14,635.
Mayor Tim Hallum expressed frustration regarding the lack of progress on payments. “This is our second year of doing this. It doesn’t really look like it’s helped,” said Hallum. “We’ve talked about going back to doing disconnects. Moving forward, we’re going to have to look at spring disconnects, because this is out of control,” he said at the time.
At the November 8 council meeting, Clerk Chris Grindland presented some good news to the council. “We made pretty good headway on people paying their bills,” said Grinland. Only nine parcels were presented for certification to the county. The total past due was $7,749.97. Four properties were over the $1,000 mark. One property owner, a rental site, acknowledged responsibility for a balance left by a renter and indicated payment would be made, but questioned whether or not incremental payments could be made. At this time, the city policy does not allow for a payment schedule, only lump sum and assessment payments.
The parcels each had a $50 administrative fee applied to their past due balances for the legwork done by the city mailing notices, certified letters, and compiling the paperwork for the county. The total amount certified to the county was $8,869.99.
In other news, the city continues to review utility rates for 2018. In October, the Rushford-Peterson School District sought a disconnect from utilities at the former R-P Middle School in Peterson, compounding the utility issue for the city.
In a letter to the city, Superintendent Chuck Ehler acknowledged the lack of communication with the city regarding the utilities since the district vacated the premises June 5. The site’s water and sewer utilities were disconnected last month.
Study of the situation indicates that while the city’s water system is performing without the school building, the sewer rates will need to be raised from $47 to $49 a month on all other properties to cover the loss. This increase will add $2,400 to the sewer fund annually.
Another option discussed is taking a percentage of city campground profits and adding it to the fund to further offset costs. Ten sewage lines and a restroom are utilized at the campground for five months each year.
The city is also gearing up for finalization of the 2018 budget. Clerk Grindland indicated that the budget can maintained without an increase. However, it doesn’t set aside additional funds for street projects, which has been an ongoing goal of the council. Currently, $11,000 is set aside in the 2018 budget for streets, but it was suggested the city proceed with a 3% increase in the levy. Doing so will add an additional $2,468 to street improvement funds. The city has both Park and River Street improvements in its sights.
The remainder of the budget remains the same with no increases. After the next city audit, the council has suggested having financial consultant Mike Bubany, of David Drown Associates, come in and do an analysis of funds and project financing for the city.
In a closed meeting session, the council conducted employee reviews. Included in the review were Clerk Grindland, Public Works Director Rick Lee, and part-time employee Pete Erickson. Upon reopening of the regular meeting, a summary indicated that there were no changes in wages or benefits for employees. The clerk’s hours had been increased from 20 to 25 hours per week after review of logged time indicated an average of 25-27 hours a week.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Wednesday, December 13, at 6 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.