|4/16/2021 11:48:00 AM|
North Branch Water and Light puts years
old trailer park issue on upcoming agenda
North Branch Water & Light Commission welcomed a familiar face to its meeting last week, in the person of Tom Borchardt. The former owner of Oakwood Trailer Park in North Branch, Borchardt is seeking compensation for a six-year-old utility project he says he was “forced” to undertake; by a utility commission that he says was acting in violation of its own policy. Commissioners agreed to review the issues and take action at next week’s Water & Light meeting April 21.
According to Borchardt, Water & Light was responsible for resolving issues with metering the units in the trailer park—and should have accepted that responsibility when a meter was uncovered at the property. His involvement and responsibility in rectifying the metering issue was coerced, he says he was threatened water would be shut-off and a host of other negative outcomes awaited if he didn’t provide and fund the metering.
There was an existing underground metering device not acknowledged by the utility, found after exploratory sitework was being done to uncover the Oakwood Trailer Park watermain.
The utility had done an experiment and shut-off service at the main— but trailers continued to have water coming out of taps inside. The conclusion was there must be unidentified access points to the main. The utility GM when this happened several years ago advised against metering at the trailers themselves, because then the utility would have to accept the system inside the park, which the GM considered as sub-standard.
Borchardt argued for meters in each trailer. This was not a mutually exclusive thing, however, as he could have proceeded on installing metering at the main as desired by the utility and at each trailer.
After many meetings, he and the utility agreed to proceed on Oakwood Trailer Park meters at a 60-40 share (Borchardt paying 60 percent.)
For decades the fact there was no obvious metering being done at the park was no big deal. The “unwritten agreement’ was for water billing at trailer parks in North Branch to be estimated.
The “per unit’ base rate of $33 per unit being applied elsewhere in the city, was assessed at $33 for the whole 32-unit trailer park, however.
The difference, Borchardt stated, from the estimated billing system to when the metering was activated was 78,000 gallons to an average actual consumption of 98,000 gallons.
Utility Chair Terry Smith observed, “It (cash flow) worked both ways then.”
Borchardt said he fought to keep assessments tied to this water metering project off his property tax, to no avail.
Last week he got on the utility commission’s agenda to make a presentation requesting the utility commission to reimburse him about $40,000, including attorney costs which he says he never should have spent to fight the assessment/property tax.
The Water & Light Commission, before the commission expanded to five members, literally ignored the compensation claim. As Borchardt stated last week, “They wouldn’t deal with it.”
Commission Chair Smith acknowledged last week he’d spoken with Borchardt in the fall of 2020, but he wanted to get the new utility General Manager situated and the new five member commission firmly established, he explained.
In 2015 there was a lengthy and oftentimes personal conflict between Borchardt, officials with the utility and city political figures involved in the utility. In 2016 Borchardt and his wife, Joyce, who also served on city council, led an effort to put a utility dissolution question on a ballot.
The utility emerged supported as a continued stand-alone agency.
Borchardt has also requested a wastewater refund from the city of North Branch, unsuccessfully. Another “unwritten agreement” called for sewer billing by the city based on 49,000 gallons. But, it was erroneously applied to all the units in the trailer community. Borchardt argued this was unfair in 2015— as he requested 15 years’ of refunds. Oakwood Trailer Park in particular was overcharged by 567,000 gallons, he stipulated then. The issue, he said, was that many units were vacant on and off during years of this practice, and should have been eliminated from billing by the city, which they were not.