Billing Error Costs Claypool $27K In Wastewater Fees

Claypool Town council agreed Tuesday to pursue around $27,000 lost from wastewater billing over the past few years due to a clerical error.
Clerk-Treasurer Connie Morgan told council she recently found that a rate adjustment passed in 2011 was not implemented correctly, causing the town to under-charge four of its largest customers – Louis Dreyfus, Symmetry Medical, Claypool Elementary School and a 12-lot mobile home park.
A March 2011 adjustment set a base rate for metered users for the first 1,000 gallons, followed by an April adjustment giving non-metered users a 1,000-gallon exemption. But because the April change was reflected in an ordinance but not the billing system, Morgan said two of the four users were charged a base rate rather than by consumption, and the other two were not being charged the correct base rate.
She said the mistake might have been caught sooner if the wastewater rate was adjusted as often as the water rate. Before 2011, the rate had not been changed since a 1997 ordinance.
Morgan told council the statue of limitations on such an issue is seven years, so the town can legally seek to recoup the under-charged fees. They agreed to have town attorney Tom Earhart draft a letter to send to the four customers and negotiate some sort of recovery.
“I don’t think we have a choice, I think we have to pursue it,” council President Niki Miller said.
The town probably won’t be able to collect on another billing issue that affects only the school, Morgan said. The school added a second water meter when it was renovated in 2010, but the town ordinance specifies a charge “per user” rather than “per meter,” which she said is the standard among water utilities. Council agreed to wait for input from Earhart and Utility Superintendent Gene Warner, but indicated they favor making the change in order to bill correctly in the future.
Council earlier Tuesday approved a new five-year fire protection agreement with the Clay Township volunteer department, at an increased rate of $10,000 per year. The previous $7,500 fee stood for 20 years or more, council members noted, so they expressed no opposition to the new fee.
Miller reported that the Kosciusko County Health Department says Claypool has two condemned properties, but they can’t be demolished until the town sets up a fund and saves enough money to pay for knocking them down.
“We’re really far away from demolishing any of these properties,” Miller remarked.
Also Tuesday, council acted on several items discussed during an administrative meeting Jan. 27, including spelling out procedures for pool fill wastewater credit and bill adjustments for leaks. Residents must notify the town and get a meter reading before and after a pool fill, which is eligible for a wastewater waiver between April and September; and residents who have leaks due to plumbing issues must keep receipts from any repairs, have the town verify the fix, fill out some forms and appear before the board to request the adjustment, which would apply to wastewater but not water usage.
And council set fines of $25, $50 and $75 for initial and subsequent violations of no-parking zones from 4 to 6 a.m. on Main Street between Section and Calhoun streets. The zones are in effect during the season for snow removal, November to April.

(Story By The Times Union)