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City of Lockport may offer breaks on unusually high water bills

LOCKPORT – The Common Council is expected to vote Wednesday to create a new committee with the power to forgive interest and penalties for unusually high water bills.

However, the new policy may not help customers recently caught with such bills: landlords whose tenants apparently ran up the bills before leaving.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said that there have been three such situations in the last year. “This would not affect those three individuals, just so we’re clear,” she said at last week’s Council work session.

Until now, forgiveness has not been part of the Lockport lexicon when it comes to water bills. Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said that the city isn’t allowed to forgive a bill for water that went through a meter but that it could forgive the 10 percent quarterly fee for late or incomplete payments.

McCaffrey said that penalty compounds each quarter if it’s not paid.

Director of Finance Scott A. Schrader said that unpaid bills are added to the following year’s property taxes. If someone who in the process of paying a bill in parts doesn’t complete it by the tax roll deadline, the unpaid amount goes on the tax bill.

Ottaviano said the new policy on forgiveness of interest would apply only to owner-occupied dwellings. “It’s not for commercial landlords, to help them obtain more profit,” he said. “We don’t want to encourage out-of-town owners, absentee landlords, to say, ‘Oh, I got a big bill. I don’t have to pay it.’ ”

Council President David R. Wohleben, R-4th Ward, said that one landlord recently had a $700 quarterly water bill but that the bill was $175 for the quarters before and after that. “She felt there was something wrong,” Wohleben said.

Alderman Richard E. Abbott, D-5th Ward, said, “The meter can malfunction, but when it malfunctions, it reads less.”

If a malicious tenant lets the water run, Abbott said, “they could put a meter on each individual apartment to find out who it is.”

Schrader said the city does not shut off water to buildings whose bills aren’t paid.

“We should look at that,” Ottaviano replied.