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Backus Council adjusts water billing for residents with frozen water

In light of 13 documented Backus homes losing water service because of frozen lines this winter, the Backus City Council on Monday, May 5, approved adjustments to water billing and established policies to better address frozen water lines in the future.

A plan was created with the purpose of reducing costs to residents left without water, without creating precedence that could cost the city a great deal of money. Most residents would still pay a bill, but the 13 documented residents left without water would receive $6.75 per month credits for February, March and April for water usage. These residents would still pay $17.75 per month for infrastructure.

“That infrastructure in the ground is still there. You still have to make payments on your loans. If you break all the windows out on your house, you still have to make your mortgage payment,” said Lee Bundy, city water/wastewater operator.

Bundy said during the freeze run, when faucets were left running, the city was processing twice as much water as it would during a typical year. The city absorbed the additional costs to process the extra water throughout the city during the freeze run. Though residents weren’t billed extra, the freeze run will still cost the city money.

“Every gallon that went through had a cost to it,” Bundy said.

Two residents with frozen water lines were also documented to have frozen sewer lines. These two residents rented portable outhouses, and the city agreed to credit them $40 per month for February, March and April.

According to the plan, residents who documented having frozen water lines with the city are also able to bring in receipts for expenses incurred because of that. A committee will examine receipts and decide which expenses to cover. Interested parties must bring in records of the expenses before July 1 or they will not qualify for reimbursement.

Some residents had frozen pipes before the freeze run was called, including Chuck Dufour. Mayor Kurt Sawyer said that was because of the extreme nature of the winter.

Water temperature is normally measured at city hall. Once groundwater temperature reaches 36 degrees, the freeze run is called. This year, water temperatures varied greatly in different blocks in the city, so some homes froze before the freeze run was called, even though the run was called early.

Bundy said that in future years, residents would be asked to take the temperature of their water. If the temperature reaches 36 degrees, then they would automatically go on a freeze run, but they must contact the city immediately.

Dufour, who is one citizen included on an official city freeze run list, suffered frozen pipes the day before the freeze run was called. At the council meeting, he argued that he should not be required to pay his water bill for the time he was not receiving water.

“My last water bill said ‘usage 0.’ Why should I pay for water when I can’t get it? It’s froze. It’s still froze as we speak,” Dufour said.

Dufour offered to pay everything except the cost of water. The council agreed to waive water fees for the two residents on the city’s official freeze run list who had frozen water lines this year because they were not notified in time to prevent their lines from freezing. It was specified that this waiver was exclusively for this year. In future years, Backus residents will be responsible for monitoring their own water temperatures. The other 13 residents who suffered from frozen water lines are not on the city’s official freeze run list.

In other business, the Backus council:

• Received a request for permission to raise chickens within the city. The council asked that the Backus residents looking to raise chickens get written approval from their neighbors and then attend a council meeting to make an official request.

• Received and made publicly available the 2013 Consumer Confidence Report for city drinking water. The report states that the city meets federal drinking water standards. Some minor contaminants were found in trace amounts, but they were determined to be safe levels.

• Set a hearing for a zoning variance concerning placement of a garage on Rosalind Avenue West for 6:30 p.m. June 2, right before the regular council meeting.

• Learned that a representative of Congressman Rick Nolan will be at Backus City Hall from 1-2 p.m. May 13.

• Reviewed an insurance claim by a city resident who sustained damage to a boat house near Pine Mountain Lake. Damage was cause by water from a hydrant being run to prevent water lines from freezing. The council learned that Bundy had supplied replacement materials for the damage.

• Approved a quote by Commercial Asphalt Repair of Grand Rapids for repair of the city streets at a cost of $10,760.

• Revisited a discussion to have Point Road surveyed to possibly change its speed limit or designation for the sake of safety. Bundy said he was looking into installation of rubber speed bumps that could be removed for winter.

• Decided not to repair Hazel Street until research can be done into the soil below the street.