The Hampton City Council approved a resolution Thursday granting a water bill credit for residents that run their faucets to avoid frozen pipes.
Citizens and property owners must contact City Hall and get their names on a list to receive the adjustment. Office staff will then figure out the average water usage for the property based on bill totals from November, December and January. The adjustment will be figured into the April 1 bill, which includes usage totals from mid-February to mid-March.
Residents must contact City Hall by 5 p.m. on Monday, March 17, to be eligible for the credit on their April 1 bill. Those that do not add their names to the list won’t receive an adjusted bill. However, anyone who adds their name to the list after March 17 is still eligible for a rate credit on the May 1 bill.
“We would look at their November, December and January bills, and say they averaged 6,000 gallons; and for the March reading it was 12,000, then we would back it down to 6,000,” said City Manager Ron Dunt.
More than 30 residences and businesses in Hampton experienced frozen pipes in February. Frigid temperatures have forced the frostline down nearly six feet deep, which is where most pipes are buried. Many residents have been running their faucets at a pencil’s width to prevent freeze-ups. The method is one of the best ways to keep pipes open, but it increases water bills.
“We got people that are hurting right now. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed,” said Councilman Steve Harms. “As far as analyzing—you can over-analyze anything. There’s a lot of communities that have moved forward, and even after adopting this you can change or adapt and do different things. But this needs to be done first.”
Councilman Dick Lukensmeyer was sympathetic to those with fixed incomes and high water bills, but was hesitant to grant such a large usage allowance for residents. He feared some people might waste water because they wouldn’t be held financially accountable after they put their name on the adjustment list. Additionally, Lukensmeyer pointed out the city would be forced to pay for added sewer and water fees to keep up with higher usage.
“Whatever we put in place, it shouldn’t be an open door for someone to let faucets run. I think we’re in the situation where we need to establish some maximums as far the amount of credit we’re giving,” he said.
However, Dunt said it would be difficult to put a cap on an adjustment rates. Some households with big families inherently use larger amounts of water than smaller ones, and he felt finding their three-month average and adjusting for added usage was the best way to handle things.
“As far as somebody just wasting water, just crankin’ it up to stick it to the man, I don’t know that it’s going to happen,” said Councilman Jay Hickman. “I think it’s just a matter of getting through the winter.”
The council discussed and debated a few more ideas, but ultimately approved the resolution establishing the bill adjustment on a 6-0 vote. It will remain in effect until the frost recedes and residents no longer have to run their faucets. Dunt expected that to happen some time in April when the ground thaws.
“If there’s a few people out there that are going to run water just to run water, I’m disappointed, but there’s nothing I can do about it,” said Councilwoman Valerie Haugebak. “I would hope that the community would be grateful for just any type of adjustment we decide on making. I know I will be.”
Around a dozen individuals were in attendance and thanked the council for their leniency. City officials reiterated that property owners are responsible for water lines that run from the main to their house. Officials don’t endorse one thawing method over another if pipes freeze.
Additionally, the city wanted to remind landlords that they are responsible for providing and maintaining plumbing facilities and fixtures at their properties. Tenants with no water service are encouraged to contact City Hall so officials can work with landlords to ensure the proper steps are taken to regain service.
“They should be required to do something and not leave that poor renter without,” said Councilman Jim Davies.
This article was updated at 11:02 a.m. Friday to include information about landlord responsibilities.
This article was updated at 12:16 p.m. Friday to include information about deadlines for the water bill credit.