City officials were prepared to use search warrants at nearly 100 residences Wednesday to check on illegal or improper water use.
City Manager Tim Boland told members of the City Council utility committee meeting Tuesday that letters were sent on July 6 to the residents, or in the case of rental properties, to the landlords, giving them 10 days to contact the city utility billing office.
"If the resident or landlord does not respond this week, we will issue administrative search warrants to enter the home. If we confirm people are living in the dwelling without public water they will be issued a citation and we will smash the water service line. If that involves damaging our roads to reach the service line we will charge the cost for road repairs to the property owner," Boland said. "If there is no water in the house and they are bringing water into the residence by other means, it is a building code violation as well as a health department violation."
Boland said the list of 98 properties was compiled using water and sewer billings.
Law Director S. Gary Repella said landlords who received a letter should move to resolve the issue.
"We have been reluctant to smash the water service lines. But in this day and age you can always go to an agency to get help paying for the water," Repella said. "We hope the landlords work with us resolving this issue. If a tenant is getting water illegally or hauling water into their house, the landlord should start the eviction process. We have sent the warning letter and put people on notice. We have a police officer accompanying the water department and health department to each identified site."
But while a majority of council members supported the crackdown, 4th Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs urged sensitivity for the residents without city water service or those obtaining water illegally.
"No one wants to use a bucket of water to flush a toilet. But we may not always be aware of all of their issues. I hope we can be more sensitive to the individual's situation. We don't know how they got into this position," Suggs said.
"I don't know how we got to this point. I am taken back by the people who have to pay their water bills and other people don't pay for their water. I believe we should take a hard line approach to this issue," 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna said.
Finance Director Stacey Williams said the utility billing office received several phone calls, "especially from landlords once the warning letter was sent out."
"We had one man call in today to make arrangements to pay a $1,200 delinquent water bill. Another person called and asked how the bill could be resolved. We are getting our point across," Williams said.
Boland said the city will remain vigilant going forward.
"We have a backlog now, but as we continue through this process it will become a normal part of our routine," he added.