The Cherokee City Council voted 3 to 1 on Tuesday to reduce a water and sewer bill that would have been over 63,000 to about $26,100.
A water line break caused a massive use of water at the Cherokee Mental Health Institute during the months of March and April.
The reason that over a million gallons of leaked water went unnoticed is that there was also a ruptured sanitary sewer line that allowed all the groundwater to drain.
The meters are read by city employees. They cannot be read by MHI employees. The MHI is planning a $1.4 million upgrade of the water and sewer system that will make future breaks less likely and allow for daily monitoring of the water meter. The upgrade had been approved by the state before the break occurred this spring.
The superintendent, business manager and support services director were at a city council meeting in April to explain the situation and to seek relief from the huge water charge. The matter was again brought to the council at the May 9 meeting where it was tabled for further consideration.
At the Tuesday meeting, Doug Woods, council member, made a motion to reduce the sewer charge to the $4,400 per month average for the two months affected by the water line break. This is similar to what has been done for residential customers who receive large bills because of equipment malfunctions.
In the case of the MHI leak, none of that water would have even gotten into the sewer if it wasn't for faulty city sewer lines.
In addition, Woods' motion called for reducing the water portion of the bill by 25 percent. This has not been done in the case of previous requests for adjustments but would become a precedent for an adjustment made later in that same meeting.
Woods explained that he had given a good deal of thought about the matter and had conflicting feelings. On the one hand, the MHI has been a good part of the community and is working on programs to further benefit the community. On the other hand, the state itself would not likely show much flexibility if the situations were reversed. The state gave the city a section of road with an old bridge and gave the city no choice in the matter.
Dwight Varce said he opposed forgiving any part of the water and sewer bill. He doesn't believe the city should take responsibility for a customer's equipment failure. He has opposed forgiving any part of the bill even when that only included the sewer portion.
Varce was the only negative vote on Woods' motion. Woods, Bob Leach and Mick Mallory voted in favor of the motion Ron Johnson was absent.
On a related matter, a request was made by Careage Hills on behalf of a resident who had formerly lived at 1132 Hill Street. A water pipe broke at her house after she had moved out.
The sewer portion of the bill had already been waived but the administrator of the nursing home noted that the woman was on Title 19 and had only $30 personal funds every month to pay off $573 of debt to the city.
Deb Taylor, city clerk, said the woman had been making monthly payments toward the debt. The council voted 3 to 1 to reduce the water bill by 25 percent. Varce was the only negative vote.