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Audit: City could save $250K in water department

Cutting down on unnecessary water loss and changing the way it bills its residents could save the city of Bellefontaine up to $253,000 a year, according to a state auditor report.

Bellefontaine is unique compared to many cities in that it bills tenants, not landlords, for utilities.

The city has 13,000 residents and 5,400 utility bills, a much higher ratio compared to its peer cities, Bellefontaine Mayor Adam Brannon said.

The state recommended the city makes changes so that it holds landowners responsible for utilities rather than individual tenants. Bellefontaine is considering such changes, Brannon said.

“The property owner is going to stay with the property. They are not going to be moving around so much and are not as hard to keep a handle on. Therefore the property owner is a more responsible party we can keep track of the utility bills on,” he said.

The mayor said he has brought the idea up with the city’s utility committee, but the proposed change has met with some opposition from property owners.

Dava Royer, owner of Royer Reality in Bellefontaine, said the proposal would make real estate less attractive to investors.

She said the change would also, “create a lot more work for landowners.”

Last month, Bellefontaine had 808 delinquent utilities accounts, totalling $46,000.

It had 276 accounts that were delinquent more than 60 days, the threshold where the city will turn water off.

Ryan Shields works for the city and is in charge of turning off utilities at delinquent residences. He said the change would mean less time spent dealing with delinquent accounts.

“It would just cut down how much we are out there trying to turn the same people off each month and back and on. We could focus on other things and other improvements,” Shields said.

The mayor wouldn’t say if he thought the billing changes would get in front of city council, but said it is an issue the city continues to look at.

The audit also suggested the city record more closely how much water it is actually using.

The city pumped 675 million gallons of water last year and only billed for 478 million gallons.

That is a water loss rate of 29.2 percent, well above the industry average of 10 to 20 percent the mayor said.

He explained certain-city owned properties were using city water, but had no meter to record the usage.

One example is a park that had bathrooms and a water fountain where the city had never installed a meter, Brannon said. The city now has nearly completed putting a meter at every municipal building.

The audit’s final suggestion was to cut a full-time position in the utility billing department. The city plans to do that through attrition later this year, Brannon said.

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