Complaints about town’s water, sewer billing spur review -- Gazette.Net


The La Plata Town Council addressed resident complaints about water and sewer bills at its regular meeting last month.

Councilman Wayne Winkler said he has received two complaints about water bills in the past several months. He explained to one resident the purpose of each fee on the bill, such as imposed fees for recycling, maintenance and stormwater management. The resident’s bill, Winkler said, was $117.55, plus what the resident had spent in water and sewer, which was $30. Water bills are paid quarterly by residents.

Another resident who called Winkler had a water bill of more than $400 and asked town staff if the bill could be paid in two installments. The first payment was to be made by 5 p.m. the Friday prior to the council’s Nov. 26 meeting, but the resident could not get a ride to town hall. Monday morning the resident’s water was cut off.

“Where I’m going with this is I was in the retail business at one point, and when people owe money, if they call you and tell you what’s going on, whether you like it or not at least you can understand, and you know what’s happening,” Winkler said. “When people don’t call you, you don’t know what’s going on, and that’s when you take the actions that were taken Monday morning.”

Winkler said he discussed the situation with the town’s billing department. He encouraged residents to call town staff and tell them what is going on, no matter the situation. He said he has never known a staff member to be mean or nasty to a resident in his 12 years on the council.

“We don’t have a mean staff,” Winkler said, adding that town staff will do what they can, and he appreciates what staff does.

Mayor Roy Hale said since Winkler raised the issue of cutting off an individual’s water access, Hale thinks the town has a “rigid system.” He asked council if the town’s billing process should be reviewed.

Town Manager Daniel Mears explained the billing process. Residents receive multiple notices if a bill is late in being paid.

“The Town has multiple options for payment including cash, check, credit card, bank draft, available in person, through the mail and online,” Mears wrote in an email statement following the meeting. “The Town expanded into accepting electronic payments a couple years ago.”

After his monthly report, La Plata Police Department Chief Carl Schinner was encouraged by Winkler to tell the council and audience about what he considered “the best email I think I’ve ever received.”

Schinner said the email was about officer Robert Nielsen responding to a call Nov. 24 outside the Lowe’s store in La Plata. The call was from a homeless man who had attempted to seek shelter in one of the local businesses, but, Schinner said, corporate policies prohibited allowing the man to stay in the business overnight.

“I received this call from the homeless person who was really touched by the kindness of Officer Nielsen,” Schinner said.

Nielsen arrived on the scene, realized temperatures would drop to 22 degrees that night and that the homeless man had no gas in his vehicle. Schinner said Nielsen assisted the homeless man in jump starting his car. The car ran out of gas before Nielsen and the homeless man got it to the gas station, so Nielsen assisted in pushing the car up the hill to a gas pump. Then, Nielsen used his own money to put gas in the man’s car. Nielsen, Schinner said, also bought the homeless man a hot meal that night.

“Above and beyond,” Schinner said of Nielsen’s response to the call.

Hale said on behalf of council and the town “we really appreciate what the officer did.”

Winkler said it was decided by the town’s Beautification Commission, with permission from the council and the mayor, to dedicate a plaque and a tree to the memory of all former members of the council and other town bodies, as well as residents who have helped the town. The plaque does not contain specific names but is for individuals who have served the town.

Residents who would like to have their Christmas decorations judged in this year’s contest by the Beautification Commission are asked to call town hall at 301-934-8421. Members of the commission will judge decorations beginning at 6 p.m. Dec. 16, Winkler said. Awards will be given in January.

The council unanimously approved the appointment of Kathy Cox to the Beautification Commission. Cox’s term will begin in January and end in December 2015. The appointment of James Cox to the town’s planning commission also was unanimously approved. James Cox will serve a five-year term as an alternate.

Councilman Lynn Gilroy asked, as a newer member of the council, about homeless people in town and if services are available during winter months for their shelter.

“There are a number of services available for folks,” Mears said. He cited the Charles County Department of Social Services and LifeStyles of Maryland Foundation, both of which have offices in town, as a resource for homeless people.

Schinner said the police department is creating lists of emergency numbers for officers on patrol to carry and to assist homeless individuals.