Alma city heads heard from a resident upset about the water department billing and shut-off policy.
Frank Griffin, who said he’s lived in Alma 12 years, told city aldermen during the public forum section of their monthly meeting Thursday night that the city’s policy of sending out water bills on the first of the month, past due notices on the 15th and shut off with a $25 administration fee on the 22nd is “unconstitutional.”
“It’s illegal - as an attorney I’m putting you on notice,” Griffin said. “It’s an unquestionable violation of the Constitution.”
Griffin was referring to the Fifth Amendment, which states, “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
Because of the “health risks” of being without water, Alma’s policies impact life, liberty and property, Griffin said.
Griffin also said the city was violating A.C.A. § 14-234-605, which he accurately stated provides guidelines for public water systems for terminating service more than 25 days past the earliest due date shown on the face of the bill and no less than 15 days after a shut off notice has been sent.
But the law states those guidelines are for a water system “that is not otherwise regulated by a municipality or municipal improvement district.” The City of Alma regulates its own water system.
Alma Public Works Director Mark Yardley was asked by Alderman John Ware about the water bill cycles of other Arkansas cities.
After receiving Griffin’s complaint earlier in the month, Yardley had requested information on billing cycles from cities around the state. Those who responded had shut off cycles as short as 16 days and as long as 50 days.
When questioned by Griffin about why the city could not just move the shut off dates, Ware and Alderman Jerry Martin noted that a longer shut off cycles makes the city more vulnerable to accrued debt.
“We have one of if not the lowest water rates around,” Martin said. “That’s because we’re able to keep our costs down. That could change if we open ourselves up to bad debt.”
When suggested he sign up for auto draft payments to prevent an accidental shut off, Griffin refused, stating he was uncomfortable with the amount of personal information that must be provided for the service - though it is the same amount of information provided on a check.
Mayor Keith Greene told Griffin the city’s response to his request for a change in the water billing cycle would be answered by letter within a week.
Also during the Thursday meeting, aldermen unanimously passed a measure limiting the mayor’s ability to use money from the city’s Parks Bond Fund.
Any expenses to be paid with the bond money now requires the approval of the council before debt can be incurred or paid, the ordinance states.
“Up to this point, the council has not been advised of the spending of these funds prior to the expenses being incurred” and “expenditures have been made from the funds in which the council does not believe to be those such expenses the citizens were advised would be made with those monies,” the ordinance states.
Martin, who proposed the measure, said the city council can now be sure the bond money is used “in the spirit of the bond” as it was presented to residents when it was put to a vote in 2014.
The council also voted 6-0 to:
• Table a residential burning ordinance for further discussion.
• Waive competitive bidding for the purchase of computer software, licenses, equipment, training and support for the Alma Police Department.
• Approve the establishment of a flood damage prevention program for the city.
• Award a $199,515 contract for the Fayetteville Avenue water line relocation to Goodwin and Goodwin construction.
• Award a $31,680 contract for the water treatment plant storefront glass installation to The Glass Company.
• Award a $80,796 contract to install an insulated, water-resistant finished wall at the water treatment plant to Albert Plastering.