GIBBON - Approximately$140,000 in overdue water bills grabbed the attention of a packed house as the Gibbon City Council on Monday.
Gibbon Mayor Jeff Gatton said the City takes some of the blame for omitting the past due balances on water bills at some point in the past, but most of the blame goes to users who didn't pay their bills that were sent quarterly, then monthly. He praised City Administrator Dana Lietzau for settling 90 to 95 percent of the past due bills.
"We want to rectify this as fast as possible," Gatton said. "We're not trying to sweep anything under the rug."
Councilor Richard Gurska said he was one of about 75 residents with past due water bills.
"I feel terrible about it," Gurska said. "After a story was in the newspaper, I was contacted by quite a few other people in the same boat. It took years to get into this mess, and it could take years to get out of it. A citizen (Michael Rider) asked me to read his letter to the City of Gibbon, but I was told by the City Council not to read it at the meeting."
Gurska shared the content of Rider's letter with The Journal. It was dated April 26, 2013, and it stated he and his wife went to the city office on Dec. 12, 2012 and were told they owed $686.11. He wrote a $350 check that day and a $336.11 check on Dec. 31, 2012.
"We were blind-sided by a bill for $3,586.11 on April 15, 2013. ... Rider wrote, adding that the bill caused his wife to become emotionally distraught.
"Not since Floyd Kent was city clerk (who retired in 2000), have we ever received an outstanding balance statement from the City. Kent gave out water shut-off warnings and shut some residents' water off during his term. We were behind one payment and got a warning. The bill was paid immediately," the letter stated.
"I called city clerks in Winthrop, Gaylord and Fairfax. They all were appalled by the fact that we were not given outstanding balances and that you wouldn't get past 60 days before having your water shut off," the letter stated.
"I have contacted an attorney who prompted me to write this letter before any legal action be taken if necessary. Any judge or jury would demand the City explain why they were so grossly negligent in providing statements with outstanding balances and demand proof of accurate accounting. This is clearly stated in the Minnesota Data Practice Act," the letter stated.
In other action, a woman who said she owned two dogs, complained to the Council about what she called "an inappropriate fine of nearly $200" for allowing her dogs' $10 licenses to expire.
"My dogs are not running loose," the woman said. She complained of not being warned about the expired licenses.
A city councilor said there was a warning printed on her water bill. He added that proof of liability insurance and rabies shots are just some of the dog license requirements.
"We're protecting our citizens and the City. People can come after us if a dog owner doesn't have insurance," said Gatton. "Dogs must be vaccinated and licensed and owners must show financial responsibility."
The council also:
Learned from Lietzau that construction of a $1.7-million water filter plant is planned to begin in late July.
Tabled action on the meals program sponsored by Lutheran Social Services (LSS). Regional LSS Director Sarah Anderson said Gibbon meals fell from 20 to 10 a day at the community center. Continuing the program would cost the City about $750 a month.
Learned from Lietzau that the owner of a tattoo shop sought information about whether the council would approve a shop in Gibbon. Several councilors and the mayor voiced support for the venture.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).