With a mind that certain renters are not paying their fair share for services like sanitation or water, the Helena-West Helena City Council set their sights on the estimated 865 apartment units in the city.
With a mind that certain renters are not paying their fair share for city services like sanitation or water, the Helena-West Helena City Council set their sights on the estimated 865 apartment units in the city during a special-called meeting on Wednesday night.
Council members Christopher Franklin and Wanda Crockett trumpeted the horn loudest, but by the end of the evening, even the normally reserved Joe St. Columbia said, "Everyone should be paying their fair share. These landlords are responsible for the number of units. The buck stops with them."
Franklin startled the Council when he claimed that the city was losing as much as $189,000 in revenue due to apartment renters not paying the same fees for sanitation services as regular home-owners.
Crockett again questioned the use of "Master Meters," which she believed has allowed certain apartment renters not to pay for either water or sanitation services.
For one particular complex, there was confusion whether there were 75 units or 62, and who, if anyone, was paying for trash pickup or water.
"How many apartments? How many accounts?" Crockett asked.
Franklin said, "We need to look at these things. We need to make sure people are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Everybody should have a meter. It is a new day in Helena."
"We are providing services for people who are not paying," he said.
Mayor Kevin Smith expressed his concerns about what he called "the practical matters" of billing and collecting for apartments, some with Master Meters having several tenets, while tenets themselves come and go.
For St. Columbia the issue was simple.
"Charge the rate times the number of apartments against the Master Meter of the landlords," he said.
Crockett raised repeated the question of whether some tenets were paying for water.
"Everyone should have to pay a high water bill, like me," she mused at one point. Crockett is a residential home owner.
The original agenda item was to be a discussion of the sanitation rates with the idea of raising the residential rates $5 and commercial rates by $10. There was little discussion of commercial or business rate increases on Wednesday night, other than Crockett asking how many business entities were in town.
All three of the major city services, which appear on one bill for most residents, water, sewer and sanitation have been targeted over the summer for rate increases.
Council members have already addressed water rate increases, and are looking at sanitation rate hikes. Any adjustments on sewer rates are pending a public hearing, of which the City Council has scheduled for Monday, July 29 at City Hall.
The general goal is to have all three services get rate hikes installed by August.
As Wednesday night's session ended, there was another discussion of the increases themselves. St. Columbia pointedly asked City Treasurer Derrick Turner if $5 was enough.
Turner said, in his opinion, the rate increased needed to be $15, which a surprised St. Columbia replied, "You are saying, almost double what the rate is now?"
Turner cited future minimum wage increases, infrastructure, and financial stability for the city.
"You are asking me what is needed; you don't have to do that," Turner replied back.
A $15 rate hike on just sanitation would make the average bill of $18.25 total $33.25 just for residential garbage collection, not counting the other hikes in water and sewer. At $33.25, Helena-West Helena could be paying among the highest city collection rates in Arkansas.
Council members recoiled, saying that adding the "unpaid" or "under paying" apartment renters would add revenue, and could result in a lesser rate hike.
Council members asked Smith and Turner to come back with revised figures based on adding apartment renters to the paying rolls, so they could review possible rate increases again.