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Village Council

Village Council — Late fees to be forgiven

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One time each year, the Village of Yellow Springs will forgive the late fee on a resident’s utility bill if the resident asks for forgiveness.

At its July 2 meeting, Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance to forgive the five percent late fee for missing a monthly payment for Village electric, water, sewer and solid waste.

It’s the part of a larger Council effort aimed at improving the affordability of municipal services, according to Council member Lisa Kreeger at the meeting.

“I want to point out this is only a first step for us to address utility concerns in the village,” Kreeger said.

The late fee waiver applies to residential customers only, who have to request to be forgiven. The late fee on a $175 monthly bill, for instance, would be $8.75.

Kreeger said that while the measure may not make a significant financial impact, it will ease the burden of a late fee when unforeseen circumstances lead to a missed payment.

“We’ve acknowledged that this isn’t the hugest impact on your spending for your utility bills, but also understand that people have situations when they are late and forget to pay their bill and in those cases they shouldn’t have to pay a late fee,” Kreeger said. 

Council’s efforts come on the heels of several years of significant utility rate hikes for municipal water, sewer and electric. Combined, the average household paid $600 more for those services this year compared to 2015, the News has reported.

At the meeting, Kreeger also presented an update on the utility roundup program she is devising with Village staff and volunteers. Under that program, utility customers can choose to round up their bill to the nearest dollar amount, donating the difference to a household at risk of having their utilities shut off.

The payment would cover the amount needed to prevent shut off, up to $200, and could only be used by a household once each year, according to Kreeger.

To qualify, a household must earn 80 percent or less of area median income or have other “hardship circumstances,” according to a memo from Kreeger on the program. The Village is looking for a “neutral nonprofit partner” to make decisions on who qualifies based upon their application, Kreeger said.

“The [nonprofit]’s role is to decide if a person or a household qualifies — the Village doesn’t decide,” Kreeger said.

The monthly donation would be in the range of one cent to 99 cents, with a write-in amount also available, according to Kreeger. The write-in option was floated after former Village Finance Director Melissa Dodd estimated that if 50 percent of local households opt in, the monthly roundup revenue would be less than $600. The Village utility office has estimated that about five families monthly need $250 for utility payments, adding up to a need of about $1,250 per month, the News has reported. 

 The Village will also put those who use the roundup funds on a Village payment program and give other assistance aimed at helping them, as households could “still go into a negative cycle,” Kreeger said. 

For example, utility office employees could refer customers to other programs, such as those aimed at energy-efficiency. 

“We are making sure we proactively get people set up so they are not falling further and further behind,” Kreeger said.

Also contributing to the program’s design were Council member Kevin Stokes, Village Manager Patti Bates, Village Finance Director Colleen Harris, Tim Baum and Kat Walter.

In other Council business:

• All Village staff and Council members will attend six hours of Implicit Bias training in August, according to Village Manager Bates’ report.

• Council approved a resolution for Bates to apply for a grant that would cover the bulk of the cost to purchase and install remote-read water meters throughout the village. About 84 percent of the project’s close to $1 million cost would be paid for by the grant, Bates said. Electric meters have already been converted to be read remotely.

Bates said the new system will streamline the meter-reading process and allow the Village to alert a homeowner of a possible leak. 

“The most important benefit it gives is a much more timely detection of water leaks,” Bates said. 

In response to an audience question, Bates said water and sewer customers will not be able to opt out.

• Bates reminded property owners they they are responsible for keeping alleyways that abut their properties “clean and trimmed.” Property owners should remove brush and keep grass cut, and can contact the Village for additional gravel to fill potholes if they need it, Bates added.

• Council received a public notice that Fairborn Cement Co. has applied for an Ohio EPA permit to quarry limestone and clay to continue to produce cement at the facility, located about four miles west of Yellow Springs. According to the notice, the activity would degrade the water quality of ten tributaries and two wetlands in the Ludlow Creek and Conner Branch watersheds, which drain into the Little Miami. 

Fairborn Cement, a subsidiary of Eagle Materials of Dallas, Tx., purchased the plant from Cemex last year.

• Council unanimously passed the second reading of an ordinance regulating small cell towers, which according to a new state law that takes effect in August, can now be erected in municipalities by companies to deliver 5G mobile data. Village Solicitor Chris Conard estimated that between five and a dozen towers would be erected in town to enhance wireless internet in populated areas. 

Assistant Village Solicitor Jennifer Grewe said that the state law means that municipalities must allow small cell towers, though communities can have aesthetic standards. 

“We can’t stop it,” Grewe said. “We have certain items, but there is a lot of leeway for these companies.”

Village officials said that efforts would be made to encourage the placement of the towers on municipal utility poles and alleyways. The Village Public Works Department will review applications, with Council making the final determination if a challenge arises, according to Conard.

• Village Community Outreach Specialist Florence Randolph, a social worker who started at the Yellow Springs Police Department in April, gave her first report to Council. Randolph noted that she had made 20 contacts with villagers in three months, mostly for mental health and housing issues, and referred the villagers to 27 area service providers.

“We’ve been able to assist a number of people who really needed the assistance,” Randolph said. “I think all of the citizens who used this appreciate having someone to help them.”

• Bates announced that Vectren would continue to replace natural gas mains and service lines in Yellow Springs. The affected areas include North Stafford Street between Pleasant and Dayton streets; North High Street between Pleasant and Dayton streets; North Winter Street between Pleasant and Dayton streets, and  Lincoln Court, Union Street and Pleasant Street from Stafford to High streets. Residents can visit to view an interactive map displaying all streets in Yellow Springs where construction will take place in 2018.

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