The Odessa Record -

By Marjorie Womach
Special to The Record 

Citizens viewed as disinterested


Last updated 3/25/2021 at 8:01am

Karen Robertson

A Mar. 7 photo shoot in the Harrington Opera House by Bryce Cain Photography was the first activity in the historic auditorium since December 2019. The photographer took promotional photos for the album release and websites of Bret Allen & the Northern Rebels, a Spokane-based southern rock/country band.

HARRINGTON – The Harrington City Council met March 17 for a "Public Hearing: Utility Rate Increase & 2021 Budget Amendment" with council members Peter Davenport, David Buddrius, Stephen Hardy and Justin Slack, Janice Cepeda (city clerk), Mayor Nathan Luck and visitors Chris Meats. Others attending via Zoom were Cherie MacClellan, Joe Armand and Lynn McGowan.

The initial discussion addressed the utility rate for the 23 inactive accounts in Harrington, some commercial and the others residential. Slack stated the citizens had been notified of this public hearing, and that the topic had been floated since last fall regarding raising the rates on these inactive accounts.

"Some of the buildings are being used, not occupied with a business, but they might have power, electricity. I asked the clerk yesterday," Slack said. "In general, no one made any comments about the public hearing, and it was on our bills and posted in the paper."

After making it clear that no citizen cared enough to contact him or the city clerk regarding raising the rate, Slack discussed potential use for the money which he estimated to be "about an extra $19,000 per year, and we have several things we could use this for." Hardy, Luck and Slack discussed the possibility of these customers disconnecting from the city lines in order to not be charged this increased fee.

This included being required to purchase a new meter upon reconnection, creating a policy for reconnection, determining the cost for reconnection as well as questioning whether the city has a locking mechanism now, other than turning the valve off.

Davenport and Slack discussed the current schedule of replacing water meters with the goal of 10% per year or 19 meters, since the city has roughly 190 meters.

Slack also addressed another issue, saying "We are incentivizing property owners to do nothing. We should be encouraging property owners to do something with their buildings. It is their right to do nothing with their property, but like Stephen has said before, with ownership comes responsibility. Of the 12 inactive houses, two are for sale."

Slack added that if council doesn't raise the inactive rates, the utility rates for everyone else would probably have to increase significantly more.

Buddrius, Slack, Luck and Hardy bantered about the possibility of customers removing service to their properties for up to 10 years, and potential disconnection and reconnection fees. Several of the visitors commented. Buddrius said he thought that Harrington citizens were paying a higher rate than other towns of same size. Slack responded that other cities haven't had to put in a new system yet. Buddrius attempted to get an answer from Slack regarding the purpose of raising the utility rate, that the council seems to be saying it is for infrastructure, then for wages and also to incentivize the owners to use or sell their buildings, asking, "What exactly are we trying to accomplish?"

Slack responded with "All of the above." At one point, Luck refused to respond to a visitor's question regarding using this rate hike for wages.

Council member Schenk joined the meeting more than an hour into it. The topic changed from raising the inactive rates to raising the rates for a larger size of garbage container.

Slack shared why a raised rate may be necessary: "Last year we had two increases, Sunshine and the transfer fee and the increase last year did not cover that full amount so that the city bore part of that cost."

Davenport asked, "The shortfall of $20,000 in the garbage fund? That's the first I've heard of it."

Luck responded, "I guess. Define shortfall." (Hardy told the council at its Feb. 24 meeting that the city suffered a $20,000 shortfall last year, which Luck confirmed. Luck, given the opportunity to clarify, avoided answering. The city clerk later defined the sum as a projected shortfall.)

Luck said, "So, depending on what your beginning balance is, estimated increase and all your revenues in and out, it is not that that is in the hole $20,000. That number is what we are bringing in and paying out in garbage. We weren't losing money. It does not mean that that fund is necessarily in the hole. It just means we bring in a little more."

Once the public hearing was closed, Slack made a motion, seconded by Schenk, that inactive rates be brought up to the current rates and implemented. The motion passed by a 3-2 vote. A short discussion followed regarding the potential increase in rates for the various sizes of garbage cans. Hardy made a motion, also seconded by Schenk, that the changes for the garbage rate be adopted as proposed (6 cents for the 35-gallon size, 50 cents for the 64-gallon and $1.93 for the 96-gallon). The motion passed, 4-0-1, with Buddrius abstaining.


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