MARINETTE — Administrators and members of the Water/Wastewater Utilities Commissions will meet with a representative of the Public Service Commission (PSC) this week to see if Marinette city lot owners are required to be back-billed for fire protection from previous years.
Residents also want to know why they are being billed, and had questions for the commission at its Monday meeting. Last week, owners of about 900 vacant lots received bills from two prior years that had not been previously requested.
“My husband and I are concerned about having to pay fire protection on a vacant lot,” said Heather Burtts, a city resident. “Our vacant lot is for additional parking for a rental unit. We feel like we are paying for car insurance without having the car.”
“I’m here to find out about how they are going to handle this,” said Warren McKenney. “I’m not going to pay for it (the fire protection back-charge).”
In an interview Wednesday, Marinette City Attorney Jonathan Sbar explained that there is a pending rate case with Schenck SC, an accounting, tax and business firm out of Green Bay, which saw that the vacant-lot customers had not been billed since the last rate case in 2009. Schenck advised the department to back-bill customers for fire protection.
Sbar said, according to Wisconsin Statute 196.635, customers could only be back billed for a total of two years.
“Without the statute, customers would be billed for five years, from 2009 through now,” Sbar said.
According to Sbar, in the 2015 tax rate the commissions will be asking the PSC to rescind the charges for some of the people who have specific stipulations on their vacant properties.
A representative of the Public Service Commission (PSC) will visit the Water Utility Department later this week to discuss a few concerns, one of which is the recent back-charge of fire protection on vacant lots. Also participating in the discussions will be Dana Weber, business manager, and Warren Howard, operations manager.
Some commissioners said they had not known about the back-charge on fire protection until they received their own bills in the mail. Many commissioners were in agreement with the residents’ concerns and said that they will discuss the issue with the PSC.
“I’m disappointed that this has happened and the way it happened,” said Commissioner Dorothy Kowalski. “I have some concerns about how this occurred. We’re still going to move forward and hope we can make things right.”
According to Jackie Miller, Marinette’s financial director, the City of Marinette owns 120 of the 900 vacant lots that are being back-charged. The county owns approximately 10.
During the meeting with PSC, the commissioners hope to be able to find a different array of options for the back-bill, which could include rescinding the charges or even debt-forgiveness.
“I’m hoping this week we can get some traction,” said Commissioner Steve Genisot.
“The ball is clearly in your court,” McKenney said. “I’m just asking for you to think it over and do the right thing.”
Once the visit from the PSC is completed the Water and Wastewater Utilities Commissions plans on holding a special public meeting to discuss the results of the visit.
“We are going to do what we can to change it,” said Commissioner Steve Lang.
“I think, just to be clear, we can’t really say not to pay the bill now, but we’re looking into rescinding the payment until we can clarify ... Certainly we would like to discuss that with PSC,” Genisot said.
Currently residents who are being billed for back-charges owe a total of $224.72. If the amount isn’t received by a Dec. 31 due date, the charge will be altered to $226.97. If the bills provide hardships for any resident, people are urged to contact the Water Utility Department to build a payment plan.