Norris residents who experience high water and sewer bills as a result of leaks in underground pipes will be able to apply for some adjustments under an ordinance the City Council passed on first reading last week.
Ordinance 664 would allow qualifying customers to pay for the excess water use based on the city’s “bulk rate” of $2.52 per 1,000 gallons – the rate charged to other utilities that buy Norris water for resale.
And if they qualify for the reduced water rate and can prove that the excess water volume did not go into the city’s sanitary sewer system, the customers also would be given a break on their sewer bills.
Leaks that qualify for the adjustments are limited to those caused by breaks in the water line from the water meter to the home’s plumbing system, but not any leaks or excessive water use resulting from “malfunctioning or leaking commodes; busted water hoses; pressure washing; car washing; malfunctioning or leaking faucets; malfunctioning equipment or appliances; water for lawns, gardens, pools, and hot tubs; etc.”
According to the proposed ordinance, when the city’s Water Department “detects a meter that has an unusually high reading, the department will conduct an investigation within five working days to determine [whether] the meter was misread.”
The Water Department will then notify the customer of a possible leak. The city will first determine whether the meter was misread, but if not, then the customer must file for an adjustment.
Customers must provide the city proof that the leak has been permanently repaired. Adjustments would be limited to twice a year, providing all other criteria have been met.
Also: An excessive bill must be at least twice the last six months’ average.
“When approved, the water portion of the bill will be adjusted to indicate bulk rate usage for any usage beyond the average of the last six months or minimum bill usage, whichever is greater. Bulk rate is determined by the Norris City Council as part of the Water Rate Ordinance,” the proposed measure states.
As for the sewer charges, which are based on water usage, a customer may apply for an adjustment only if:
“ … the City Manager or Waterworks Superintendent was able to reasonably determine the excessive water did not discharge into the sanitary sewer system. For the purposes of this determination, it is the burden of the customer to provide sufficient evidence
“The sanitary sewer bill will be adjusted to reflect an amount consistent with the average of the last six months in which no leak was recorded or a minimum bill, whichever is greater.”
The City Council and the Water Commission (which have the same members) have been debating these policy changes for the several months, mostly because of requests by some customers for adjustments.
The city currently has no written policy on how to handle such requests.
Ordinance 664 came up for discussion at the Nov. 13 regular council meeting, but was delayed until the council, meeting as the Water Commission, could discuss it during the commission meeting on Monday, Nov. 20.
At that meeting, the Water Commission gave its approval to the ordinance, which was then approved on first reading by the City Council after the commission meeting. A public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, and the council is expected to give it final approval on second reading in the regular December council meeting, which will follow at 6 p.m.