By editorial board • 

If committed to be fair, cities need to collect what is due

After years of lurching from one financial crisis to another, Willamina has finally begun to get its financial house in order.

City leaders rightly deserve the full support of the citizenry. But they’ve gotten nothing of the sort with their latest effort to instill discipline — shutting off water to force payment of past-due accounts.

Hopefully, the disgruntlement is largely limited to the 41 households whose taps went dry Dec. 19. The other 650 or so should see the situation for what it is — well-meaning officials trying to right past wrongs, leading to leakage of an unconscionable sum from city assets.

Municipal systems require substantial water sources, large-scale storage and treatment systems and a transmission network capable of serving a substantial population. All that doesn’t come cheap, of course.

If ratepayer A reneges on his obligation, then ratepayer B has to make up the difference. So the vast majority of residents should applaud the crackdown, as they pay their bills in a timely fashion.

Financial woes run deep in Willamina, which set the stage.

Since 2002, the city has been without a manager for two multi-year stretches and gotten by with a part-time manager. That led to such lax accounting the city flunked a series of state-mandated audits, then went four consecutive years with its books in a disarray that defied auditing altogether.

When Nebraska transplant Bob Sivick took over last year, he knew what he was getting into.

Mission one was helping the city complete a financial turnaround launched under interim leadership. A particularly inviting target was $165,000 in unpaid water bills, which he rightly termed “outrageous.”

The biggest problem appears to be renters scamming the system by running up months ‘worth of unpaid bills, then moving on.

Late this fall, he set about tightening up. He provided delinquent households with fair warning, then followed through.

Affected parties didn’t like the holiday timing or $50 reconnection fee. They complained about not having been personally warned by phone. They accused the city of acting in an arrogant and high-handed fashion.

Sorry, but we don’t buy it. If there is anywhere government ought to operate like a business, it is in the provision of utility services for a fee.
Stiff the bank, supermarket or hospital, and you can expect a determined collection effort.

We take no issue with cities following suit. In so doing, they are simply acting in the best interests of their constituency.


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