City Approves Amnesty for Delinquent Water/Sewer Bills
By Jean McLeod — Wednesday, October 24th, 2012
Councilmember A. Eduardo Gonzalez recused himself from voting on delinquent water bills, during Tuesday night’s Council meeting.
The October 23, 2012 Fillmore City Council Meeting had only two items on the agenda, delinquent water accounts and appointing a temporary employee; but the public comments seem to go on and on. Many of those who stepped up to the podium during this time basically repeated the same dislike of Martin Farrell, owner of The Fillmore Gazette, as they have done at almost all council meetings for months. Some used the podium as a campaign tool to show their grasp of Fillmore’s financial history and former Council Member Patti Walker spoke of how unfair and damaging it was for a newspaper to reveal that a council member owed an outstanding water bill of $95,000 to the City and asked those in support to standup to “tyranny”. Over an hour and a half of speakers address the Council as the political drama continued.
Some in attendance had come to the scheduled public hearing on El Dorado Mobile Home Estates vesting tentative parcel map for ownership conversion, but it was postponed until Friday, November 2nd 6:30p.m. Fillmore City Hall, due to parties involved not being able to attend until that date.
Only one of the two items on the agenda went into any real discussion and that was the Water Utility Bill Cycle and Delinquent Accounts. Before this item was discussed Council Member A. Eduardo Gonzalez made a statement admitting he has a large outstanding water bill. He said he and his wife have discussed the issue and decided not to declare bankruptcy adding, “I am not going to run away from this. I’m not going to hide away. I’m going to make every effort to pay for it.” Gonzalez stated that he has not asked for a deduction or reduced amount on the bill. Later a man who had been sitting in back of the room stepped up to the podium and asked Gonzalez, “Are you a respectful man?” and then repeated it and asked again. To which Gonzalez answered, “Yes.” The man just looked at him and turned around and walked out of the chambers.
When the water bill amnesty came up for discussion, Gonzalez recused himself from the discussion and vote. Fillmore Finance Director Glenda Jay explained the proposed change in billing and amnesty for those with delinquent water bills. Changes which were approved by unanimous vote of the four remaining Council Members include a shortened billing cycle, from 31 calendar days to 19 calendar days and stopping the use of door hangers. The City would instead mail a notice five days prior to the water being shut off, giving the customer notice that water will be shut of if the account is not paid within the time specified. Water and sewer bills not paid by the date due will continue to receive an added 5% late fee along with a 1 ½ % per month interest charge on any unpaid previous balance and continue to be charge the interest until paid. When delinquent monies are paid the oldest charges are paid first in the following order: water, sewer and then source reduction.
A one time amnesty program for forgiveness of penalty and interest charges was proposed and approved as part of a repayment plan. Those who apply for this program will have almost 90 days to bring their account to good standing. The program starts December 7, 2012 and continues until February 28, 2013. The program’s community outreach will be advertised on the water bills themselves, on Channel 10 and in the Gazette.
There have been tense moments at the council meetings for the past couple of months and Tuesday, as in previous meetings, Police Chief Monica McGrath called in a backup sheriff to stand at the entrance to the council chambers for the first two hours.
During the public comments some speakers had actual items and not condemnations to talk about. Kathleen McCreary and Cindy Jackson with Heritage Valley Tourism Bureau (HVTB) came to thank the Council for including them in the 2012-2013 City Budget and waiving the rental fee for the tourism office. HVTB represents the communities of Fillmore, Santa Paula and Piru and is an all volunteer organization. Fillmore & Western Railroad donates employee McCreary’s time to promote tourism to the area and promote the various venues in town that include the Taste of the Valley, 4th of July & Chili Cook-off, Railfest, Honey Festival to name a few. When tourists come to town it generates tax dollars for the City.
Norma Amaro commented that “greedy businesses” are threatening the filming in Fillmore and told the Council that some of those doing the filming “shared” with her a complaint that some businesses were demanding too much compensation (she did not state a dollar amount) for the disruption to their businesses due to filming. Later Alex Mollkoy, who is running for city council, addressed the Council with his version of what had transpired between himself and those filming the television show ‘Justified’. Mollkoy stated he was approached with the compensation offer and when he asked for more he was told he was an extortionist and asked to justify his business losses. Mollkoy told the Council the filming is negatively impacting his business and that his cash receipts were $90 by 3:30p.m. Then he stated he had made more on his first business day when no one knew the store was even open for business. Mollkoy went on to say that he feels the filming is not working for his business and there is no one to speak to about it. Central Avenue, where Mollkoy’s business is located, was closed on Tuesday October 23rd from 8a.m. until 6p.m. for filming. When asked, Mollkoy said the compensation being offered equaled about 20-40% of his stores overhead cost per day. Gonzalez and acting City Manager Rigo Landeros told Mollkoy the issue of filming compensation would be put on the next Council Meeting’s agenda and a date for all parties involved to come together would be scheduled.