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Unpaid utility bills cause problems for rental property owners in HL
Nov. 30, 2018

Mark Mitten

HOWARD LAKE, MN – During the open forum portion of the Howard Lake City Council meeting Nov. 19, resident Daryll Stenberg voiced his concern that if a renter accrued unpaid utility bills, the burden of repayment ultimately fell on the property owner to rectify.

As the owner of a rental property, Stenberg was concerned the current lenient approach to delinquent utilities creates a financial burden that the property owner must pay if the renter cannot.

“Our ordinance dictates that if you are above $300, we shut off your water. That being said, we also offer payment plans,” said City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller.

Haggenmiller said that a payment plan could be minimal, because the city does not want to create an unsafe or unsanitary living situation for renters by cutting off their water, should they not be able to pay their full utility bills on time.

Stenberg said that the city’s lenient posture did not prevent delinquent bills from growing larger, and had created a situation where his renter’s bill had grown significantly.

He asked the council to address the problem, and suggested either a stronger city stance on repayment, or institute a firmer water cut off policy.

“We try to be more lenient because these people are residents, and a lot of time they have hardships,” said Mayor Pete Zimmerman.

However, Stenberg said it had created a financial burden on himself as the property owner. He said that while eviction is an option he can pursue, it is a difficult and lengthy process, and he would prefer to see the city take a stronger stance on utility repayment.

Municipal liquor store

The municipal liquor store, Howard Lake Wine and Spirits, is going through a process of improvement.

Store manager Myra Laway and Haggermiller gave a presentation to the city council, describing new paint, shelves, displays, and fixtures.

They also requested approval to invest in a new point-of-sale system, National Cash Register Counterpoint, at an estimated cost of $12,301.

Haggermiller emphasized that the system would eliminate current difficulties the store has with credit card purchases, and create a smooth and efficient purchase process.

It would also allow a digital connectivity with Buffalo’s municipal liquor store, so that both stores could collaborate on price matching and inventory purchasing.

The city council approved the decision. Haggenmiller anticipated the new system will be operational within a matter of weeks, in time for the Christmas/New Year holiday season.

Odds and ends

In other business, the council:

• approved an updated orderly annexation agreement with Victor Township.

• heard that the Wright County Area Transportation (WCAT) Joint Powers Board will be dissolved. Wright County will enter ino a JPA with mcLeod and Sibley counties for operation of Trailblazer Transit, beginning Jan 1, 2019.

• learned the Howard Lake Parks and Planning Commission hosted a public hearing Nov 13, and recommended the animal ordinance be updated to allow for six chickens per household within city limits, with permits to be required.

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