Hillsboro council reviews utility cut-off policy

The Hillsboro City Coun­cil reviewed the city’s utility cut-off policy during its Nov. 8 special meeting.

The issue was customers who are delinquent in their payments, but have health issues that require continuation of electric service.

City Administrator Larry Paine said the issue surfaced during the previous building cycle. A customer facing utility cut-off pleaded for an additional day to pay the bill. When the customer failed to pay as promised, the power was shut off the following afternoon.

“Mid-afternoon, we received a call from the medical clinic asking that we turn the power back on since one of the occupants of the house required additional oxygen,” Paine said.

He said he told the customer the city needed to hear from him by the end of the day in order to turn the power back on.

“We did not hear from him,” Paine said.

The power remained off until Monday, when the customer contacted the city. Paine said power was restored when the customer promised partial payment the following morning. The payment was received, with an arrangement that the balance of the bill would be paid by Friday.

“As this process was being played out, we asked ourselves about what is the right thing to do when there is a medical issue in the home that would require the continuation of electrical service,” he said.

Authority to shut off utilities is established in the city’s municipal code, he added. The city’s procedure is to mail a notice by first-class mail, giving the customer 10 days to bring the account current.

In absence of payment, the city can disconnect power to the property. The code does not make allow­ances for medical conditions that require uninterrupted power.

For Nov. 8 meeting, Paine introduced a new four-point policy for council consideration:

(1) Any customer needing continuous access to electricity for medical purposes shall submit a signed release from a medical practitioner indicating the need as a medical necessity.

(2) Should at any time that customer’s account becomes delinquent, a notice of delinquency shall be sent by first-class mail to the customer of record at that address stating the intent to disconnect power services in 30 days if the customer takes no action to bring the account current. Following that 30-day period, the city shall disconnect the electrical power.

(3) It will be the responsibility of the city’s utility billing department to keep a list of customers that have medical necessity for electric power.

(4) It will be the responsibility of the customer to notify the utility department of their requirement for electrical power as a medical necessity.

Paine said the new policy will be brought back at the next council meeting, Nov. 15, for a vote.

Net-metering policy

The council affirmed Paine’s suggestion that the city take a six-month moratorium from developing a “net-metering policy” for the city. The council was introduced to a policy at its Oct. 18 meeting that was patterned after one developed by Garden City.

Such a policy would address hook-up and billing practices when a city customer wishes to connect a photo voltaic solar or wind system at a house or business to reduce the consumption of city-provided power.

“When customers are not getting electricity from our own utility, we’ll have to be covered in some form,” Paine said.

In the days following the Oct. 18 meeting, Paine concluded that a comprehensive policy would require researching multitude factors to find an appropriate “price-point” that would provide a benefit for the customer but also protect the city’s electrical utility.

Since that meeting, Paine said the executive board of Kansas Municipal Utilities, on which he serves, has discussed developing a policy in the coming months for all of its member cities.

Facility-use agreement

Paine alerted the council that USD 410 was advised by its auditors to revise an agreement regarding the use of city-owned recreational facilities. The old agreement expired in 2014.

Paine said the new agreement will address the payment arrangement when the city makes improvements at those facilities, specifically repairs for the tennis courts and game-day preparation for baseball and softball.

Paine said the new agreement, which must first be reviewed and approved by the USD 410 board, will obligate the school district to pay $2,050 for use of the tennis courts and $2,000 for the use of the baseball and softball fields.

Under the former agreement, the city had been receiving $2,500 from the district. The new agreement, which would take effect July 1, 2017, will come to the council for approval at its Nov. 22 meeting.

Other business

In other business:

• the council agreed to relocate the city’s composite site to accommodate a possible building project by Grace Community Fellowship next summer. No specific time­table was identified.

The new location would be at the west side of the public works yard, and would be accessible on East Orchard Drive by developing a gravel road from the end of the concrete street to the site.

• the League of Kansas Municipalities recognized three city employees who have reached milestone anniversaries of employment.

Doug Sisk was feted for 10 years as recreation director, Jason Plett for 10 years with the electric department and Ben Steketee for 15 years as fire chief.

Each of the employees received a certificate from LKM and a gift from the city.

• was invited by Paine to attend the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the KMU Train­ing Center in McPherson Nov. 29.

Paine, a member of the executive board, said the new facility will offer utility employees a number of training opportunities in the areas of electric, water, wastewater and gas.