First Reading of new Utility Bylaw passes unanimously

by Tristan Turner

During their Apr. 26 meeting, Council – excluding the absent Councillor Rob Ladouceur – unanimously passed First Reading of Utility Bylaw changes that 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 believes the changes – if passed – 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, but the program will also save Town staff time in tracking down unfulfilled bills.

Beyond the changes to agreements themselves, the new utility bylaw includes steps to streamline the application process for utility applications, and provisions that include more e-service and email options for ratepayers.

There was limited discussion at the meeting, Council having previously reviewed the proposed changes at Committee of the Whole, but Mayor Lisa Holmes did thank Jason for her work on bringing forward the bylaw saying she did “a great job” and that the new plan will be more efficient and save the town money.

If Second and Third reading pass at a subsequent Council meeting, 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.

Council will be reviewing Second and potentially Third reading of the Bylaw at their next meeting on May 10th. If it passes, 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 outlining the 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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