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City seeks payment on long overdue accounts
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The installation of water meters in Ceres has led to the discovery that nearly 100 households weren't getting billed for water service. Now city officials wants them to pay up a total of $45,000 and is giving them six months to do so.

Approximately 50 households have overdue balances of $500 or less while 44 have accounts that are overdue in excess of $500 - 10 of which are over $2,000.

City Attorney Mike Lyions said that the homes "for various reasons have gone unbilled and undetected, many of which were discovered when the city installed water meters in preparation of the Jan. 1 switchover from flat rate to metered rates. In other cases the city learned that water was going places it didn't know were getting services.

"We didn't know anyone was living in some of the places," said Deputy Interim City Manager Sheila Cumberland. "They would be listed as vacant."

In some cases, she said, renters were confused as to whether they or the landlord was paying the water bill. But most rental agreements spell out those details and she surmised that tenants failed to read that.

On June 27 the Ceres City Council approved a repayment plan that is not likely to garner any fans. For one thing, the city is offering citizens a six-month period to catch up but will also be subjected to a $50 preparation fee and $10 per month administrative fee. City Attorney Mike Lyions defended the fee as "the city's reasonable cost of administering the repayment agreement."

Mayor Chris Vierra said some residents who were not billed for months and years expressed a desire to see the city forgive the looming bills.

"I didn't feel that was right," said Vierra. "They got the service and some knew they were receiving the service without payment. They shouldn't be allowed to go for free."

He said the set-up fees are not unreasonable since the city is not demanding repayment in one lump sum and since city staff has to spend more time setting up a repayment program different than the city's regular utility billing system. Each payment must be accounted for differently, said Vierra. Passing off those extra costs of city staff time to other rate payers would not be fair, said the mayor.

"Those who got the benefit of the water should pay the additional charges of setting that up."