BUCYRUS — The issue of landlords being held responsible for tenants’ water bills is under review again by Bucyrus City Council’s service committee.
Bucyrus Water Utility Department Manager Mike Kalb said the issue comes up every few years and one of the problems is landlords who have multiple tenants in one building with one shut off valve.
“We can’t shut off the entire building because one person did not pay their bill,” Kalb said during council’s joint committee meeting Thursday evening at Bucyrus City Hall.
He said last year the city collected $40,000 through property taxes for unpaid water bills.
Landlord Bob Erwin said the deposit should be raised for water customers from the current $180 to $200 or $225.
Mayor Jeff Reser said there is an insurance program that was proposed to handle water leaks and other issues, but it was tabled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it is time to revisit that,” Reser said.
Council member Lisa Alsept said she wants residents to pay a larger deposit or obtain a co-signer if they have bad credit.
Bucyrus landlord Paul Moser said Galion does not charge landlords for unpaid water bills and only has about a three-percent rate of non-payment.
“In the state of Ohio, it is not legal to burden someone with someone else’s burden but evidently the city of Bucyrus is special,” Moser said. “Galion does not stick the bills to the landlords so they must be more ethical. The gas company can’t stick me with the bill, the electric company can’t do it, the cable company can’t, so that should tell the city its wrong.”
Reser said the committee should get written suggestions of solutions from landlords and Kalb may provide the cost of implementation to present to the service committee.
“After July 10, the city will start doing shutoffs,” Reser said. “We will be working with people to get their bill caught up, roughly about 200 people. They won’t be shut off right away, we will be working with everyone. It’s not fair to put that one the landlords.”
Bruce Truka, chair of the service committee, wants a cost assessment of how much it will cost the city to send letters to landlords when tenants are behind on their utility bills. He also recommended the issue be tabled until it can be determined how much money was moved from a tenants’ bill to a landlords’ bill and what would it cost the city to run credit checks on people to determine the amount of deposit.
Also during the joint committee meeting, the finance committee approved legislation to go before council for a vote for the city to apply for a federal grant program through the CARES Act.
“I was on a conference call yesterday with the state and other mayors about the funding,” Reser said.
He said it may be used to help residents with utility bills but the city cannot pay itself which means the money would have to be given to the resident and that person would have to pay the bill. It can also be used for other things.
The current Crawford Partnership agreement also was discussed by the finance committee.
“Are we getting anything for the $50,000 per year we pay them,” committee chair James Mee asked.
Reser said the partnership provides several programs for leadership and job-seeking throughout the county, including in local schools, and currently is working with a builder for apartments to be built in the city.
“The partnership comes to council at least four times per year to update us,” Reser said.
He said the city does not have the money to support a city economic development department and the partnership brings a lot of business into the area.
Council president Kurt Fankhauser said he spoke a few weeks ago with Gary Frankhouse, director of the partnership, and asked why he is not a county employee and the partnership is a separate entity.
“He said they do not want to be set up for public records requests because if they are negotiating with a company and other counties are too, he doesn’t want them to be able to obtain the records of communications as to the details of a possible deal,” Fankhauser said.
Council member Myers said the partnership is a non-profit 501c organization allowing them to apply for more grant monies.
Alsept said the partnership seems to be putting more effort into Galion and promoting new businesses at their exits to U.S. 30 but not as much in Bucyrus.
“I have heard Galion residents say they wish Galion had the things we do so it’s all about perception,” Reser said. “We are competing against other counties throughout Ohio to bring industry to our county.”
Council member Doug Foght said Frankhouse was instrumental in assisting his committee to revamp the city’s CRA and is working toward bringing more industry to the Crossroads Industrial Park.
Myers requested the partnership come to a meeting soon to explain the city’s financial return on the investment the city is making.
Reser will ask Frankhouse to come to the July 9 committee meeting to provide updates on the latest projects.
Acceptance of the SAFER grant was up for discussion and Myers said he would rather wait until the grant comes out to see what the details are within the grant before accepting.
The health and safety committee approved a resolution to be voted on by council in July to support the Bucyrus Police Department. Alsept said she will donate the $200 fee for the issue to be advertised with the local news media.
The committee tabled a discussion on creating a vacant building ordinance until more information can be obtained.
The next city council is July 7 at 7 p.m. in council chambers in Bucyrus City Hall.