Oil City Claims to be Losing $300,000 from Water/Sewage Billing Issues

| June 9, 2017

Oil City CouncilOIL CITY, Pa. (EYT) — Money, or the lack thereof, was the main topic of conversation at Thursday’s Oil City Council meeting.

Two major conversations dealt with ways to improve cash flow and spend less money.

The first topic was about water and sewage billing issues between tenants and landlords in the city.

City Manager Mark Schroyer talked at length about the problems with landlord-tenant relationships and the difficulty the city is having because of it.

“Our collection rate on water and sewage bills is only about 83 percent and of that, 43 percent of the late bills is related to rental properties,” Schroyer said. “With tenants responsible for paying these bills the city has become the collection agent and we are inundated with disputes between tenants and landlords.”

Schroyer said most of the problems arise because some landlords don’t take care of the properties and sometimes leaky pipes result in higher water bills for tenants.

“Some landlords don’t pay attention to water leaks because they aren’t paying the bills,” Schroyer said.

He wants to see the system revamped so landlords are responsible for water, sewage and garbage services.

“There will be less accounts for our staff to deal with, less turnover and better collection rates,” Schroyer said.

Council man Isaiah Dunham said a quick check of figures showed the city was losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars, more than $300,000, because of the problem.

Schroyer also said rent in the city is arbitrarily low and if they are responsible for providing water, sewage and garbage, rent will have to increase so landlords may have to maintain their property better.

“We know they are going to be upset, but the city is losing thousands of dollars every month and it’s time for things to change. There’ll be political ramifications, landlords will say they don’t have the manpower to do this,” Schroyer said.

“But that’s not our problem,” councilman Michael Poff said.

Schroyer said a public meeting with landlords will be scheduled sometime in the near future, possibly before a city council meeting.

CORNPLANTER NOT IN FAVOR OF $250 FEE FOR ALS SERVICES

The other dominant topic was the Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance service contract.

The city voted in April to charge a flat $250 fee per patient when Oil City responds for ALS services in Tionesta Borough, Reno and Cornplanter Township.

Tionesta was against it from the beginning, and Thursday, Cornplanter made its feelings known that it wasn’t supporting the plan. Reno isn’t too excited about the idea either, according to fire chief Mark Hicks.

Currently, the three municipalities have Basic Life Support Services and Oil City is required by the state to respond when ALS services are needed. Now, Reno is paying $125 per patient that needs ALS services, Cornplanter is paying $150 and Tionesta $200.

ALS includes advanced treatments like heart monitoring, IVs, etc

Hicks said they found out they can bill patients with insurance for the fee, but for those with Medicare and Medicaid, there need to be contracts to collect those fees.

Schroyer said that, for the short term, the city has to take care of Oil City residents.

For Poff, he said it seems a bit rich that our neighbors expect us to respond for mutual aid when they don’t provide the ALS service.

“We should help our neighbors, but not at all our expense,” Poff said.

Hicks said he is concerned about how his department is being stretched thin and how it may be in the future.

“We get called out, everyone mobilizes and goes, then we get canceled. We are at our breaking point for care in terms of manpower,” Hicks said. “I’d like to see an oversight committee to determine the direction of the department in the next five to 10 years.

“We have a lot of older people answering these calls and that won’t change because we just don’t have the younger people getting involved,” Hicks said.

Schroyer added that the fire/EMS department’s $1.6 million annual budget is not financially sustainable.

No action was taken regarding the contract.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, Kelly Amos, the Director of Community Development, talked about the Community Development Block Grant process.

“It is due in late October or November and the city’s allocation will be about what it was in 2016, $272,958,” Amos said.

Council talked about ways to spend the money, including paying off a fire truck that has two years remaining.

“That money (CDBG) might not be there in a few years, so it’s something we need to consider,” councilman Ron Gustafson said.

Dale Massie said there is paving that needs to be done in the city.

Also, Schroyer said 100 LED street lights have been installed with 1,400 still to be done. Penelec is responsible for the replacement of the lights. The LED models are more efficient and are expected to save money over time.

“It’s slowly progressing, we can only get 25 at a time through the program and Penelec does it as time allows. I believe it will stretch into next year,” Schroyer said.

Related Story: Oil City Council Approves Expanded Farmer’s Market, Youth Program


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