Town to review Utility Bylaw to avoid getting stung by renters

by Tristan Turner

During their Apr. 19 Committee of the Whole meeting, Morinville Administration brought forward proposed Utility Bylaw changes for Council’s consideration, which will no longer permit utility accounts to be in a tenant’s name.

The changes are intended to save the Town time and money, with the Town currently on the hook for tracking down missed payments and collections.

Morinville currently maintains more than 3,300 utility accounts, of which nearly 10 per cent represent residential and commercial tenant accounts. Utility write-offs on rental arrears have averaged $15,000 per year over the past three years, with an average collection rate of 15 per cent (or $2,250).

“The proposed changes demonstrate effective fiscal responsibility to existing taxpayers, is consistent with other municipalities in the region, and will eliminate the reliance on external collection agency and internal resources spent on collections; both proving to be ineffective and costly”, said Shawna Jason, Interim Director of Financial Services.

Town Administration also claims the changes will promote “property owner rental business accountability.” The Town would be able to to transfer unpaid utility related costs directly to the property owner’s tax roll account after all other internal collection measures have been exhausted, as is currently the case with non-rental properties.

The changes will save the town a little over $15,000 a year, which CAO Andrew Isbister acknowledged at the meeting “might not be a lot of money,” but that the program will also save Town staff time in tracking down unfulfilled bills.

Should the amended Bylaw pass, the changes would take effect July 1; however, all current rental utility accounts will remain in effect until a tenant vacates, or the disconnection of utility service has been scheduled due to missed payment. The property owner will be required to pay a connection fee, open a new account in their name and will be responsible for utility charges after that.

The Bylaw is scheduled for 1st Reading on Apr. 26. The implementation plan consists of an advertising campaign by the Town intending to advise and educate residents. The Town will also send direct correspondence to all existing owners with rental accounts advising of changes.

Owners under the new legislation will have the opportunity to receive one landfill pass per account with user pay charges continuing to be billed on their monthly utility bill. Owners will also have the opportunity to request their monthly utility bill be emailed or mailed to either the service address (tenant) or the owner directly for payment.

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