SOLON– To err is human, to forgive divine.
If so, the members of the Solon City Council were in a divine mood last week, forgiving over $1,000 in sewer fees for two new residents who were forced to use large quantities of water to keep their new sod alive over the summer drought.
The council members were not as sympathetic to another family with a high water bill apparently stemming from a leaky toilet.
Tyson Landsgard of Bergamot Lane in the Fox Ridge subdivision and Jay Johnson of Majestic Oak Road in Windmill Estates appeared before the council during a regular meeting Wednesday, Aug. 15, to appeal their water bills for July. Both had extensively watered the sod at their new homes, and both had received utility bills from the city totaling over $1,000.
Both were provided relief from council members, who came to the conclusion the sewer fees could be eliminated because the majority of the water used did not end up processed through the city’s wastewater collection system.
In Landsgard’s case, there was an additional dispute between a contractor and the new homeowner which muddied the water as to the exact point when the water bill became Landsgard’s responsibility.
According to city administrator Cassandra Lippincott, Landsgard’s contractor began watering the sod at the property before the new Solon family took ownership. The family’s total water and sewer bill from June 25 to July 23 totaled $1,110.40 for 87,600 gallons of usage, and Lippincott determined the contractor should be responsible for five days during that period, a credit of about $160.90.
“Well, this is one way to meet the city council right off the bat,” Mayor Cami Rasmussen told Landsgard. “Welcome to Solon.”
“We did water our sod, I’m not going to deny that,” Landsgard told council members. But when he asked the city to look at usage billed to his contractor, he was told there didn’t appear to be a previous reading for the meter.
“When I got the water bill, and had the heart attack, I shut off the sprinklers to the back end,” he said. “Eleven hundred dollars, that’s more than my mortgage. So either lose the home or lose part of the sod.” He continued to water the front of the yard, he said.
“My feeling is we got billed for the beginning of the process,” he said, noting the meter was installed in May and was likely used by contractors before his occupancy. He estimated his usage at somewhere around 40,000 gallons.
Mayor Rasmussen said the situation highlighted the need to specify a transition between contractor and homeowner, and she suggested a council committee review the process for the transferring of utilities.
Council members Steve Stange and Brad Kunkel suggested Landsgard shouldn’t be held responsible for the sewer portion of the bill.
“There’s two issues,” Kunkel noted. “One, who’s responsible for the amount used; and two, do we need to look at sewer rate being charged when it’s all going outside?”
Stange proposed requiring payment for the water bill, as well as an average month of household usage for sewer, forgiving the remaining sewer bill.
Public works director Scott Kleppe, however, had a word of caution for council members. “What’s going to stop somebody in the future saying, ‘Hey, I got my water bill, and it’s more than my average, but I watered my garden, so I want to be forgiven that sewer charge off my normal bill?” he asked. “How are we going to know, and when will it stop?”
Kleppe was referring to Chapter 90.23 of Solon’s code of ordinances, which allows for the installation of a separate water meter for use in instances “when the water provided is not to be returned to the sewer system.” Those uses include watering gardens, shrubs and lawns, and filling swimming pools. The homeowner pays the city to install a second meter to use for those purposes, one which is charged at a different rate than normal users.
The council members unanimously approved Stange’s motion to forgive $593.21 of Landsgard’s bill, with council member Mark Krall absent.
Jay Johnson’s problem was similar, but without the contractor issue.
Johnson had his sod installed after taking ownership and ran sprinklers 18 hours a day on his front and rear yards.
“Not doubting the water– we used the water,” Johnson said. “I guess we’d hope for some forgiveness on the sewer since the majority went through the storm sewers.”
Johnson’s meter reading showed usage of 103,500 gallons of water, generating a bill of over $1,300.
The council members came to the same conclusion in this case, unanimously forgiving the sewer charge and requiring Johnson to pay one typical monthly amount after one is determined over the coming months.
There wasn’t a happy resolution for renter Sara Smith, however.
Smith was the third resident to appear before council that night asking for an adjustment to a utility bill, but her high usage appeared to be caused by a leaking toilet, and the wastewater went through the city’s treatment facility.
When the city noticed high usage at 520 S. Iowa St., which Smith was renting, the landlord was notified and he determined the cause to be a leaking toilet.
Smith questioned how a trickle of water in one leaking toilet could generate that much usage (84,200 gallons in one billing cycle), but city engineer Dave Schechinger indicated it was entirely possible.
Because the water went through the sewage system, council members recommended Smith challenge the reading and have the meter tested. But at least one of the council members did not offer much hope.
“If the water meter comes back and it’s fine,” Stange said. “Just to give you a head’s up, I’m going to probably vote to not have a change, because that’s what we’ve done in the past. It went through the water meter, it went down the sewer. I don’t know how we could forgive that.”