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Moratorium placed on promissory notes for past due water bills

MABTON - A moratorium, effective immediately, has been placed on promissory notes for past due water bills in Mabton, following a regularly scheduled city council meeting last night (Tuesday).

But unlike the April 8 regularly scheduled meeting in which Mabton Mayor Velva Herrera's water bill was under scrutiny for being more than $600 in arrears, last night's discussion focused more on water bills in general and city policy and ordinances.

City Attorney Jack Maxwell informed council that promissory notes on city water bills violates state law. "You're lending credit, which is against the Washington State Constitution," Maxwell told the council.

During citizen comment participation, Jim Adams broached the subject, expressing his surprise that the subject matter did not appear on the meeting agenda.

Adams questioned why his water bill increased 12 percent. "Why, when there are over 100 residents who haven't paid their water bill," Adams asked.

Councilwoman Vera Zavala responded, "First of all, I don't think you or anybody else needs to know what my water bill is...I feel like this is an attack on the city of Mabton."

Adams countered that to have 100 people in arrears is "unheard of."

As Zavala began to respond, Maxwell stopped her, saying, "This is citizen comment time, let them comment."

Herrera said that she found documentation regarding promissory notes dating back to the 1990's. "Why the citizens of Mabton don't know anything about it, I don't know," she said.

Police Chief Robert Perales said he found a 1987 directive from a previous mayor allowing for promissory notes.

Maxwell said, "Your ordinance is what controls collections." Later, he added, "There's nothing wrong with the ordinance (pertaining to water bill collection) as it's written. It just hasn't been followed."

Maxwell also noted that if the city lets a person get behind $600 on a city water bill, and then the individual files bankruptcy, the city loses out on the past due amount. "You can't extend credit on the city," he reiterated. "It's not legal to do it."

Councilwoman Shelly Mireles asked for an immediate moratorium on promissory notes for water bills.

Numerous citizens voiced input regarding promissory notes and water bills. Julia Peralez expressed concern for those on fixed incomes. "Citizens on fixed incomes should be considered for promissory notes," she said.

Maxwell said the city could consider a senior citizen rate. Councilwoman Oping Hutson said the city already has a discount for seniors, citizens just must prove they are 62-years-of-age and older.

Citizen Fred Zavala said rather than a moratorium, he'd like to see city staff consider promissory notes on a case by case basis. He expressed concern that families might stay in a home with no running water, prompting future trouble with the Department of Health.

Council agreed to hold a special meeting to seek citizen input regarding water bills.

In the meantime, according to consent from the council, no promissory notes will be accepted for past due water bills.

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