The Joseph City Council voted Nov. 2 to establish a cross-connection control program as required by the Oregon Health Authority Drinking Water Program. The program will ensure that back flow from yard irrigation systems and such does not flow back into drinking water lines due to a sudden lowering of water pressure.

An ordinance to hold property owners and landlords responsible for unpaid sewer and water bills should a renter depart without payment was also explored. The ordinance stated that the city would not turn on water to the property until the bill was paid.

Mayor Dennis Sands said the city formerly had no recourse to collect the owed funds except through a collection agency, which generally proved marginally effective.

Joseph business owner Becky Rushton said she wanted to speak to the matter, but Sands said he wasn’t taking questions. Council member Teresa Sajonia said the affected public should be allowed to comment.

Sands replied that he was the one who had instituted public comment on agenda items when he was elected to office because he appreciated their insight. He said recent council meetings had become town hall meetings with excessive discussion, and he was only trying to keep order.

Rushton asked how she was supposed to keep track of renter bills when it was likely an invasion of privacy. Council member Tom Clevenger said it was her responsibility as she owned the property. City administrator Sandra Patterson, who crafted the ordinance, said it was her understanding that landlords could check on a bill’s status since they were property owners. The council decided to check with the city attorney on the matter.

The council also discussed an ordinance that would require property owners to continue to pay water usage bills even if they had the water shut off for an extended period. Sands explained that the city still made payments on the sewer and water system and that payments had to be made whether the property owner used the system or not.

He added that a large percentage of everyone’s bill went into debt service, and with operating bills added, it cost $53 per month per household to maintain the system. Patterson said that at any one time, 35-40 households have their water shut off for various reasons, which costs the city about $15,000 per year.

Clevenger said the city needed the funds, and Sajonia added that city auditors have told the council for years that the water rates are too low. She added that the system would soon need repairs and maintenance, and the city had no money saved for the project.

Sajonia also said the city needed to look at how to implement the fee increase. She noted that Rushton had several rental cabins, which now had the water turned off. Clevenger asked if it wasn’t the cost of doing business. After hearing that most of the “snowbirds” had already departed for warmer climes, the council tabled the issue until the spring.

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