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Flood survivors pay utilities for unlivable homes

9:46 PM, Nov 19, 2013   |    comments
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LYONS - Some of the thousands of people who can't live in their damaged or destroyed homes are still being billed for utility services in those homes, adding another burden to the difficult task of recovering from the disaster.

John Carter gave us a tour of his home in Lyons, where workers have already gutted it.

The interior is so stripped down, he can give you the tour standing in one spot.

"This was the living room. This was kind of a dining area, kitchen, my bedroom," Carter said, pointing through the frames of what used to be his walls.

Carter contacted 9NEWS after a bill showed up for $127 the town of Lyons.

"I'm getting charged for something I'm not using," Carter said.

The bill was for electric, water, and sewer charges since the flood.

Mayor Julie Van Domelen says what's on John's bill isn't a charge for services, but rather the base fee.

"Even when you're on vacation you pay the base fee," Van Domelen said. "It's the fee that keeps the system available for you."

9NEWS called other towns hit by the floods and learned that Estes Park will waive its base fees for unusable homes with a written request.

Boulder will disconnect service upon request for no charge.

In Lyons, the infrastructure took such a beating that the mayor says they just can't afford to waive the base fees.

The damage is too widespread.

"We're the owners of the electric, water and sewer system in Lyons," Van Domelen said. "As owners of that, we have to fund the repair of that."

Mayor Julie Van Domelen says the city needs base fees to pay its share of the estimated $50 million in damaged town infrastructure.

Carter is fine with a reasonable base fee, but argues that's not all he's paying.

"They're charging me usage," Carter said.

On one item, he's right: sewage.

"You don't meter sewer," Van Domelen said.

Because sewage meters would be both disgusting and impractical, the town uses a fairly common method to calculate the usage fee for that utility.

Lyons charges each home a flat $16.65 and then adds an amount for usage, which is based on average water use from the prior December through February, in order to measure water use without yard irrigation.

For John Carter, that usage calculation makes his sewer bill about $84 a month, which is higher than most.

He'd like it dropped to $16.65 while he's unable to live in his house.

"I'm not in a position to donate to put the town back together," Carter said.

The town manager says there is no legal mechanism to charge people an amount other than the normal sewer fees.

She plans to ask the Lyons town board to decide the matter one way or the other, to give people like John one less thing to be uncertain about.

9NEWS obtained the following responses from other flood-affected municipalities about this issue:

Estes Park
The town board passed a resolution on this very matter 11/12/13. Essentially, what it says is that monthly minimum charges for water and electricity will be suspended for customers whose home is destroyed or unsafe and service is unavailable. The customers must request the suspension of charges in writing. The suspension will be retroactive to October 1, 2013 and will continue until October 1, 2014 or until utility service is in use, whichever happens first.

Evans
The city handles water and sewer. People who are not able to live in their homes will still be charged a base rate. If they are not using the services, they will not be billed the variable rate (the amount comes from usage.)

Loveland
There are few residences or business affected. Mostly these are people who live in Larimer County, but are surrounded by Loveland and use Loveland services. Those people are not being billed anything for utilities, not even a base or minimum fee.

Boulder
The city handles water, wastewater, storm water, and flood management. Any property owner affected by the floods can request to have their service stopped. They will not be billed anything, as long as their service is shut off.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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