East Carbon's high-interest utility penalty eliminated with merger
With utility rates equalized for the residents of East Carbon-Sunnyside, the city council moved on to the volatile issue of vacant water rates as well as the late fee to be paid by citizens.
For decades prior to the merger of East Carbon and Sunnyside, East Carbon residents had paid a 10 percent interest charge on any late utility bill.
And for decades the town's residents have complained.
"That 10 percent charge has been a city ordinance since I started 23 years ago," said East Carbon Treasurer and former council member Cheryl McFarland. "And residents have always hated it."
Ongoing issues with the fee stem from the fact that the late charge is compounded monthly, making the actual penalty more than 10 percent if the resident is carrying a balance. Compounded over the course of a year, East Carbon residents were paying more than 300 percent interest on any unpaid amount left on their bill for 12 months.
Sunnyside residents, on the other hand, had been charged a flat $25 late fee and while this penalty cost the typical resident more for being late on a single bill, it did not have the ability to snowball should the homeowner get significantly behind.
Bills of 'epic' proportions
"I was paying $250 a month in interest," said East Carbon resident Marcus Palacios, who was under the impression that the city would cap outstanding interest payments.
For Palacios, who had never turned on the property's water or used the sewer, the payments got so extreme he had to stop working on the home as the utility burden had eliminated his investment capital. He was able to settle with the city after the bill had reached epic proportions.
To combat situations like this while making sure the city remains financially stable, the city council voted Tuesday evening to dramatically change the area's ordinance.
Those dwelling in East Carbon-Sunnyside will pay $24 a month on vacant lots with water connections. This rate will be a significant savings to the former residents of Sunnyside as they were being charged $40 a month for vacant lot hookups prior to the merger.
Home occupants will be charged a $25 penalty on utility payments which are more than 30 days late. Should the homeowner get more than 60 days behind on their utility bill, their water will be shut off.
According to the council, this will keep citizens from accruing massive utility bills and also ensure that the city is paid for services as they are provided.
Citizens who have their water shut off will have to pay a $50 reconnection fee.