Columbus water meter tampering costs offenders $250 on top of overdue charge

Published 1:14 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Town of Columbus has fined four water customers $250 and could bring criminal charges against customers charged with tampering with&bsp; their water meters.

Town council last Thursday heard an update on the recent cut off of water to 23 customers following a new policy being implemented. The town also was faced with dealing with four customers who tampered with their water meters when their service was being disconnected. The city fined those customers $250 and placed locks on those meters.

Columbus recently changed its water payment policy to give customers only 11 days to make payment before service is cut off. The town&squo;s previous policy gave customers about 40 days to pay their bills before service was cut.

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The new policy was passed because the town was consistently losing revenue from renters who didn&squo;t pay their bills after they left the rental property. The town considered making landlords responsible for water bills but chose the new policy after hearing concerns from many area landlords.

According to the update on the new policy commissioners heard Thursday, water service was cut off to 23 customers on Feb. 23. In addition, four fines were issued for meter tampering and three renters skipped out without paying for a total of $402 in renters&squo; water bills.

Four businesses were charged a $75 reconnect fee but were not disconnected from service.

Overall, the policy seems to be working, according to town officials. Employees told council members that renters are still skipping out on bills, but those renters are now only one month behind instead of two months behind, which deposits cover.

The meter tampering caused council members to question town attorney Bailey Nager about the town&squo;s options if the same customers tamper with the water more than once.

Nager said the town has the option of giving civil penalties and the town also has the right to file a criminal misdemeanor.

The town sent letters to the four customers accused of meter tampering that notified them of the town&squo;s water and sewer ordinance that addresses it being unlawful to change, unscrew or in any other way tamper with any hydrant or water cock, meter or other part of pipes, tank, tower for fixtures connected with the town&squo;s water system. The customers who were charged with tampering with meters had unpaid balances of $263, $129, $220 and $109. In addition, they now have a $250 fine to pay. The town also charges a $75 reconnect fee after service has been disconnected.