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Utility payment problems resurface at Mabton council meeting

MABTON - Mabton city council has gotten itself into a conundrum once again over water bills.

At last night's regularly scheduled meeting, Mayor Velva Herrera explained to city council members that a resident called her in late May to specifically request her water be turned back on when it was shut-off for non-payment.

Herrera told council that the resident told her there was a family emergency and the money the resident set aside for the water bill, which was already in arrears, needed to be used for plane tickets for a death in the family.

"I told her my hands were tied," Herrera said, adding that she then instructed the resident to call and get approval from three council members to have the water turned back on.

The resident called Vera Zavala, Shelly Mireles and Oping Hutson, promising to pay.

Herrera then directed public works to turn the water back on.

Later, the resident didn't pay the promised amount. The resident again called Herrera, who instructed the resident to get approval, again, from three council members.

Hutson said she told the resident no, who then called councilman Mario Martinez. When Martinez was questioned about it at last night's meeting, he told council members he was under the impression that the resident could pay the full amount, but because City Hall was closed on Fridays, that posed a problem. Martinez maintained that he encouraged the resident to drop off the money at City Hall on Friday and be credited for it.

The resident's current past due amount is $823, according to city clerk Kitty Curtis.

City Attorney Jack Maxwell wrote a memo to the mayor and council, instructing them to shut the resident's water off until payment is made in full to the account.

In the meantime, residents in attendance at the meeting were angered by exception being made to the city's ordinance.

One woman expressed her anger that the issue of promissory notes was brought to light by council member Angel Reyna a couple of months ago.

At a previous city council meeting, Reyna questioned why the mayor was several hundred dollars in arrears on her city water bill. That has prompted review of the city's ordinance pertaining to water bills and the discontinuance of promissory notes from residents.

"Everything was fine until people had to open their big mouths about other people's (water) bills," said audience member Christina Gourneau. "You guys started complaining about her bill and that's why everything went (bad)," she said.

Another audience member, Maria Rose, told council members that they would have a problem with the health district by shutting off water to residents who don't pay. "The city could face health issues," she said.

Councilman Martinez said that at one time, approximately 120 residents were behind in water bills. When council cracked down and made no exceptions, like the promissory notes, that number dropped to 20.

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