Three persons - including the mayor - lodged complaints at last week's City Council meeting about the city being too stringent during requests to supply water, sewer and garbage services.
"I have been treated terribly by the people where you go pay your bill and turn your water on," said landlord Shane Parson.
Parson, who is well-known in the community as owner of Embroidery Plus and the Diamond Bar Arena and Ceres Chamber of Commerce official, complained that city staff always demands "the proper paperwork." He asked for latitude in treatment.
"It's ridiculous that we have to go in there and be treated like I'm trying to cheat on something. I'll I'm trying to do is put something in my name and pay the bill."
Ceres City Manager Toby Wells defended the city's procedures, saying "the rules are set up to protect the business owners and property owners."
"The rules are very simple: Provide us evidence that you have rights to establish service at that property. It is for the protection of that owner because what happened during the recession is people would come in without providing that information, sign up for service. So if you're a landlord and you have people are signing up for service in their name and then defaulting, then it comes back to bite the property owner."
Wells said it is a waste of staff time by having to go to properties to continually deal with unpaid bills because the required documents were not shown.
"If you would like to apply the rules differently to different people we can try to do that but the difficulty here is it's on a per property basis, not on a personal basis. In the case of Mr. Parson, he has a lot of different properties with different ownership interests. If it's an LLC when there's four different owners. We just need a simple document showing the relationship between property owner and the person who's signing up for service."
Documents include closing documents or lease agreements.
Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra said he took a "little bit offense" to the city's procedure, saying he has rental properties and was told he couldn't get water service on his property without a signed lease document.
"I'm not going to skip town on paying it so I think there's some truth to this," said Vierra.
He said it took two days to get the water turned on in the middle of summer.
Finance Director Suzanne Dean said documents are scanned and attached to the account so the owner can always come in and verify.
"The problem seems to be establishing ownership and establishing a right," said Dean, who suggested the mayor's dealings occurred before she became in charge of city Finance Department. "Once we establish ownership, we're good."
The city has had to deal with multiple forged documents. She mentioned how the city received a forged stolen check for $1,200 to turn on water service on an address where squatters moved into a foreclosed home.
"We're trying to work with Mr. Parson," said Dean. "Anytime I'm involved, you know, I tell him we'll turn on the water, he'll get us the documents. We are bending. I'm not exactly sure how much more I can bend the rules."
Lonnie Davis, who also owns a number of Ceres rental properties held in trust, said dealing with Ceres is different than other cities.
"It's tougher here. There's a different quality to the relationship and the interaction. It's not as user friendly and it's not as good. I don't want to go too far out there but you're not treated like a customer, you're treated like a criminal. It's almost like Napoleonic law. You're guilty until proven innocent."
He said he's had to provide multiple copies of 30-page trusts which "seems a bit redundant."
Davis said the mayor of Ceres shouldn't be "run through a ringer."
Dean said she thought she had resolved matters with Davis and had not heard any complaints in two years but Davis said he ran into problems about three months ago.
"I didn't hear about it," replied Dean.
She said she's trying to get a level of satisfaction for Parson. She suggested Parson contact her but cautioned against blaming staff who "have rules to follow and they're following them."
Councilwoman Linda Ryno said she understands why the city has rules, especially when there are multiple owners.
"I think probably over the years we've kind of been hurt a lot on our utility accounts," said Ryno.
Wells offered to have the council revisit the matter in January once it's been researched and placed on an agenda.
In the meantime, Dean asked for problems to be directed to her. She said her staff is only trying to protect the city "and not, in any way, trying to be disrespectful."