Fillmore Town Council members disclosed more details of the town's troubled financial situation Thursday, and though they are not yet capable of solving those problems, the new officials say they are on their way to understanding them.
After reporting that the small town is carrying over $1 million dollars in debt last month, council president Jeff Osborn expanded on the town's bookkeeping woes by revealing water and sewer arrears are in excess of $86,000.
Osborn said the council hopes to institute payment plans to help people catch up and keep up on their utility bills, including possibly accepting credit card payments.
Clerk-Treasurer Wanda Seidler reported that vacant houses receiving no public utilities services have still been issued bills, for an unknown period of time. According to Osborn, those "phantom bills," have contributed significantly to the arrears, but will never be collected.
The board provided firm figures on other utility billing irregularities, such as unequal billing for town water and sewer. Osborn reported that some town residents have been billed a flat rate for sewer services while others have been billed $20 and $30 less per month, but there is no documentation to explain the differing rates.
"There is no way we can go back and make all of that right," Osborn said, but he assured residents that the council will make billing equitable in the future. "Some may find themselves paying a little more, some a little less. We're trying to get the town under control so please bear with us."
Seidler reported she is sending certified letters to residents with reduced rates, requesting legal documentation of billing agreements before any changes are put into effect. Town officials have no such documentation on file. The town's bookkeeper estimates that residents paying $20 per month below the minimum rate cost the town $3,012 every year, while those paying $30 less cost the town $2,654 per year.
Other billing errors include missed residential meter readings, to the tune of $2,520 last year. Also, a corporate account's meter was missed 10 of 12 times last year, to the tune of nearly $2,000.
The board also reported on the infiltration of groundwater into Fillmore's sewer system. After consulting with Greencastle utility officials, Osborn determined that in dry months the town's sewer bill is roughly $5,000, while it wet months it can be in excess of $15,000.
Though the board will continue to investigate the problem, Osborn plans to roll out conservation efforts and to begin enforcing regulations prohibiting unauthorized residential drainage from flowing into the town's sewer.
"Each of us needs to take responsibility for all the water we put into the sewer," Osborn said. "When that happens, were not cheating the town, we're cheating our neighbors," Osborn said.
Though most of the problems discussed in Thursday's meeting will be ongoing, the council was able to take action on two items of old business.
Osborn reported that after reading a decade's worth of meeting minutes, one of the most consistent complaints from Fillmore residents concerns nuisance animals.
Town Marshall Tom Helmer reported that the owner several loud dogs in the area has been issued a citation. However, he mentioned that law enforcement can't take action without receiving official complaints from residents.
The board also passed a motion to rewire the battery charging the town's tornado siren, adding it to the town hall electric meter instead of marinating an additional meter outside. Alan Jones projected minimal cost for the project, but expects the changes to save the town a few dollars.