Vanishing water bills who pays – woodtv database structure

The 800 people who live in Hesperia, which straddles the border of Newaygo and Oceana counties, pay for their municipal water the way most people in other towns do. They pay one fee for the water from the tap and another called a ready to serve charge for the pumps and pipes that deliver it.

In 2015, the company that runs the water system for the village questioned whether everyone was paying. The village did a review and found the ready to serve charges for six properties had vanished from the books as long ago as 2011. Lou Nemastil, who was village president at the time, said they appeared to have been "deleted or missing."

The village attorney sent out letters and past-due bills to the three owners of the properties, which are all either vacant or have empty homes on them.

The letters said the owners had to pay the ready to serve fee even if they weren’t using any water at the time. That was in June 2016.

Daniels also produced an opinion from Hesperia’s lawyer, the same one who had sent out the past due bills a few months earlier, that says the local government might be drawn into an expensive lawsuit if it tried to collect. The opinion mentioned the case of one of the billed property owners, Alan Seng, who simply asked "one of the village employees in 2012-2013" if he could get out of paying on a vacant property he owns and "his billing stopped and his account disappeared."

Whether the village employee "was allowed to stop the billing and cancel the account or not is irrelevant," according to the legal opinion. The attorney figured that if owners "reasonably believes" they no longer have to pay, they might be able to fight the past due bills.

The last of the properties in question belonged to the family of former Village President Roger Kraus. His son Michael Kraus said they didn’t ask anyone to take it off the books. He said the billing just stopped between five and seven years ago after they tore down a house on the lot. The family has since sold the land.

The municipal attorney’s legal opinion recommends forgiving the past due bills. It also suggests property owners should be allowed to disconnect from the system to avoid the ready to serve fee and that the village clarify its ordinance so everyone understands that if they are connected to the system, they have to pay the charge regardless of whether they are using water.

Three days before Farber forgave the past-due charges on the six properties, the Village Council voted to keep the ordinance "’as is,’ charging customers with vacant lots or buildings a monthly RTS (Ready to Serve) charge," meeting minutes show. MATTER NOT SETTLED FOR SOME

The entire episode has drawn criticism from two former village presidents. One is Lou Nemastil, who was in office when the original past-due bills went out and who prompted a Michigan State Police investigation more than a year ago. That investigation seemed to get new energy when Target 8 investigators started asking questions.

"Everybody should be paying their fair share. Everybody," Derks said. "This is what we’re very concerned about is the domino effect. … You start deleting these accounts, you’re starting a precedent to having to delete other accounts and when is it going to stop?