Oak Creek Town Board repeals electric bill ordinance
Oak Creek votes, 3-2, against placing liens on properties
April 14, 2011
In other action
At its Thursday meeting, the Oak Creek Town Board:
■ Approved, 5-0, Nolte Engineering Additional Services No. 6 for $5,000 for the new water tank project.
■ Approved, 5-0, a resolution to declare April the Month of the Young Child.
■ Approved, 5-0, a resolution of acceptance for the contractor’s work on the wastewater treatment plant project.
■ Approved, 5-0, pay application No. 10 from Duckels Construction.
■ Approved, 5-0, the municipal judge pay at $406 per month, the same as it has been for four years.
Trustee Dawn Smith was not present at the meeting.
Although several audience members at a full Oak Creek Town Board meeting Thursday night had other issues to discuss, the main focus of the meeting was, as expected, Ordinance 609.
The board voted, 3-2, to repeal the ordinance, with the intention to revisit the issue.
The ordinance, which was passed at the March 24 board meeting, allowed the town to place liens on properties with unpaid electric bills. It was scheduled to take effect April 28.
"We decided to repeal it because we were not happy with the wording of the ordinance," Mayor Nikki Knoebel said after the meeting. "We understand it's an issue, and we are looking into other options."
The town already places liens on properties with unpaid sewer and water bills.
The issue that concerned many landlords in Oak Creek is that sometimes an electric bill — a variable cost, unlike water and sewer bills — is in the tenant's name rather than the landlord's.
Oak Creek property owners Chan Zwanzig and Scott Wedel were heated in their opposition to the ordinance, emphasizing the inability of landlords to be privy to their tenants' electric bills and criticizing the town's deposit and disconnect policy for allowing so many accounts to become delinquent.
At the end of 2010, Trustee Wendy Gustafson said, the town had $15,000 worth of electric bills in arrears. Since then, the town has amassed $4,000.
Gustafson said the lien on properties with unpaid electric bills would protect the town from raising rates on everyone to make up for the losses.
A letter from town attorney Bob Weiss presented at the meeting stated that the ordinance is legal.
Gustafson and Trustee Johrene Myers-Story voted against the repeal, viewing the property lien approach as the best step for the town as a whole.
Gustafson said she hopes the issue will not be dropped.
"As long as we do what is in the best interest of the town, I'm pretty happy," she said. "My concern is this will get repealed and then dropped. As long as we stay on it, I'm OK."
Cindy Powders, an Oak Creek property owner and the wife of an Oak Creek landlord, said revisiting the ordinance was a wise choice because she opposed it in its original form.
"It's fantastic," Powders said about the decision. "Well advised. They've obviously become aware of some things that they weren't aware of before."
Zwanzig, who is concerned about the issue because his tenant runs a medical marijuana grow operation with high electricity bills, also was in favor of the repeal.
"I feel it was a carefully considered and appropriate decision to not allow something to take effect as law before it was clarified completely and legally," he said.
Also at the meeting, resident Josh Voorhis spoke in favor of holding property owners liable for bills, and another resident sent in a letter supporting it.
The Town Board decided to add the issue of unpaid electric bills to a work session at 7 p.m. Thursday. The work session also will include a discussion of medical marijuana in the town, which was a point of passionate discussion early in Thursday's meeting.
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com