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City writes off $22K in delinquent utility bills

By Anna Jauhola
The Hallock City Council approved a resolution to write-off delinquent utility accounts due to the statute of limitations. According to state law, delinquent utility accounts cannot be collected if they are older than six years and those responsible have not affirmed the debt.
City Attorney Jeff Hane attended the regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 6 and helped navigate the issue, which the council discussed at its January meeting as well.
“The general rule on contract claims like these is you have six years to claim your action,” Hane said. “If you fail to claim your action within six years, they are uncollectible. That’s an affirmative defense the defendant can raise. If at any time they affirm the debt, the six years starts all over again. Unfortunately, none of these people have made any partial payments or anything that would affirm the debt.”
According to the information provided at the meeting, the city of Hallock wrote off 45 delinquent accounts. Amounts on those ranged from $52.56 to $2,256.09. Five of the accounts were over $1,000. Eleven of the accounts were between $500 and $1,000. Twenty-two of them were between $100 and $500. And seven of them are under $100.
The amount is approximately $22,000.
City Clerk/Administrator Aimee Sugden said letters were sent to all delinquent utility account holders within the statute of limitations stating they have an outstanding balance. This has produced a few people who set up payment plans.
“I will say this list is down a lot from when I started at least,” Sugden said. “Kendra is very good at that.”
There are currently 37 delinquent, but collectible, utility accounts ranging from 64 cents to $2,102.21. Five of those accounts are between $1,000 and $2,100. Five of them are between $500 and $1,000. Sixteen of them are between $100 and $500. Eleven of them are under $100.
Hane also suggested the council adopt a policy change to better handle delinquent utility accounts. For example, when the city sends a letter regarding a delinquent account, if the issue is not resolved within six months, that account is taken to small claims court.
Sugden said she would draft a policy change for the March meeting regarding the collectible accounts.
In other business, the council:
• Heard from Hane a few reminders as their regular attorney. He said the city does not have a retainer, but is charged by the hour when they need legal services. Hane said the council is usually pretty good about the open meetings law but reminded them of a few things — Special meetings must be posted three days in advance at least; communications outside of a meeting involving a quorum of the council violate the open meetings law; consult Hane if they think they need to close a meeting; attorney/client privilege has a narrow window when it comes to units of government and he urged caution about putting things in writing because it could be considered a public document; consider implementing alternate meeting dates for regular monthly meetings to avoid having to call a special meeting if a regular meeting is postponed.
• Approved purchasing a new laptop and associated equipment for Police Chief Mike Docken for $3,331. This equipment will connect directly with the state Zuercher system for ticketing and will allow him to print tickets and access information to eliminate delays while contacting dispatch for information.
• Approved the Purpose and Scope portion of the employee handbook.
• Approved a raffle request from the Hallock Firemen’s Relief Association.
• Approved the list of forfeited land within the city that will be up for sale at an auction this spring.
The next meeting is set for Monday, March 6 at 5:30 p.m.

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