Council debates water line mandate
The Fairfield City Council is pushing for duplexes and apartments to create separate water lines and meters for each tenant in the building.
City Administrator Kevin Flanagan and water superintendent Carl Chandler explained the city’s predicament to the council. If a duplex only has one meter and one of the occupants isn’t paying for water, the city can’t shut the water off to the house because it’s not fair to the other person who is paying for water.
The council passed the first reading of an ordinance Tuesday that would eliminate that problem, albeit with some resistance. Councilor John Revolinski voted against the ordinance because he believed it would force apartment owners to shoulder enormous construction costs.
The other five councilors present voted for ordinance. They were Michael Halley, Tony Hammes, Jessica Ledger-Kalen, Martha Rasmussen and Connie Boyer. Daryn Hamilton was absent.
Revolinski said he believed the expense of separating water lines could run several thousand dollars.
“To suddenly separate the water lines is a huge expense,” Revolinski said. “We’re talking about $5,000 to $10,000 for a house. We’re just legislating this that houses have to spend $10,000 because we don’t like how they pay their water bill?”
Flanagan said he did not believe the expense would be anywhere near $10,000.
Revolinski believed the ordinance would require landlords to rip out their whole service lines in some cases. He envisioned the landlord having to tear apart his front lawn and interior walls in order to reroute the plumbing. Flanagan disagreed and said nothing that dramatic would need to be done in most cases.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a huge, onerous or undoable burden to make these changes,” he said.
Revolinski said he preferred limiting the ordinance to apply to new construction or to property owners who were making changes to their building. Flanagan didn’t think that went far enough.
“What do we do when someone is not paying their bill and we can’t cut them off? It can cost [the city] $200 a month,” he said. “We have to take care of the taxpayers, and we’re powerless to do that.”
Revolinski said that problem could be solved by creating a separate water bill for these apartments. He said he would only support the ordinance if it included a grandfather clause that would exempt existing apartments.
Halley said he supported the ordinance and viewed the change as common sense.
“If you’re going to have separate dwellings in one building, they should have separate utilities,” he said. “It should have been this way all along.”
Revolinski said he agreed it should have been this way but he worried about the tenants who would have to pay much higher rents because of this mandate.
City Attorney John Morrissey said he did not like the idea of writing so many exceptions into the ordinance. If it proved to be especially onerous for a few landlords, he said the city administrator could request the council waive the ordinance in those instances.
Chandler said he had no problem requiring separate meters inside a home. He only worried about the city gaining access to those meters. For instance, in some cases all meters in an apartment may be located inside the tenant’s dwelling who is not paying the bill and refuses to let the city workers in.
Chandler said one solution that could avoid rerouting the water lines was to use only one meter at a dwelling, which would make the landlord responsible for the water and allow the landlord to decide how his tenants pay for their water.