Sewer charge dispute unresolved

Friday, January 28, 2011
Attorney Dan Whitaker, left, represents the Lewisburg Water and Wastewater Board which includes Gary Bolling, right.

Because one resident sought adjustments to the city's sewer use fee, Lewisburg's Water and Wastewater Board didn't have to respond to a City Council request for a board recommendation regarding a fee change.

That's what attorney Dan P. Whitaker wrote on Jan. 20 to Mayor Barbara Woods in response to her Jan. 13 letter, sent on behalf of the City Council with Councilmen Robin Minor and Odie Whitehead Jr. calling for a solution to on-going complaints from residents about being charged for sewer service when they're not connected.

The regulatory-ridden discussion has continued for more than six months and some councilmen have agreed with the most vocal spokesman for the cause, Bob Lowe, a resident who has a working septic tank, but who's been paying sewer fees based on his water usage. The charge, utility officials have said, is because the service is available. Lowe counters that if anything, he should be paying a flat rate, not something based on water he buys but does not drain.

Having acquired Whitaker's response to Woods, Lowe complains that the utility's response missed the point. He's not asking for himself, anymore. He's taken up the cause for any household in town where a sewer fee is paid even though there's no connection.

After this month's meeting of the council, Woods struggled with exactly what the councilmen wanted her to get from the utility. Comments during the monthly meeting on Jan. 11 were not very specific. It was clear to some that the council recognizes that it can't act on a general rate or fee change without a recommendation from the utility board.

Woods' letter noted that process, cited a city code on it and noted the council hadn't received a reply to an Aug. 19 request for substantially the same thing. But, Whitaker replied, the Aug. 19 request was not exactly on the larger issue.

The council's Aug. 19 action was "brought about by a request from Mr. Bob Lowe to have his sewer use fees reduced to a minimum charge, instead of paying sewer use fees based on his water consumption."

Utility Superintendent Kenneth Carr had adjusted Lowe's bill, but rescinded that, as Whitaker explained, because Carr misread the code that allows an adjustment for a portion of flow not used by a sewer customer who is discharging wastewater. Lowe isn't discharging wastewater, so he's to pay the fee based on water consumption.

That's why the utility didn't respond to the council's Aug. 19 request.

The exchange of letters between City Hall and the utility on Water Street have, however, not resolved the larger point, Lowe said.

He and another city resident have letters to the editor regarding these subjects on Page A4 of this edition.

"These residents are requesting a minimum charge for sewer," Woods wrote to Carr.

Woods' letter also said she was "respectfully calling for a request [from the utility] for this item [change to the sewer use billing system] to be placed on the Feb. 8 ... Council Agenda by a representative of the Water and Sewer Department and/or Board, and a representative for the department and/or Board be present at this meeting."

Council meetings start at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month in City Hall at 131 East Church St.