A bid to raise the security deposits on water and gas meters failed Tuesday at the Zachary City Council when members couldn’t agree on how much the rates should be increased.
The ordinance proposal, which the council introduced at its last meeting, would have raised water deposits from $50 to $125 for users inside city limits and $150 for those outside, and gas deposits would have gone up from $150 to $200 inside limits and $250 outside.
The rates haven’t been changed since the 1980s, and unpaid water and gas bills have put the city thousands of dollars in debt, officials said previously. The city recently began taking a zero tolerance approach with people who don’t pay on time, shutting off service sooner and not allowing extensions for customers who are behind on payments.
The average monthly water bill in Zachary is between $35 and $40, and gas bills average $55 to $60, said chief administrative officer Steve Nunnery. The city can put deposit money, a one-time fee customers pay when they want to start using a meter, toward the cost of outstanding bills.
Some council members felt the rate hikes outlined in the ordinance weren’t enough.
Councilwoman Laura O’Brien, who owns rental property, said a tenant recently ran up a “humongous” bill, then left town. She said those kinds of situations are expensive for both landlords, who often end up paying the outstanding bills, and the city, which basically provides service for free until it can identify the late-paying customers and disconnect their meters.
She and Councilman Brandon Noel favored raising the deposits to $175 for water and $225 for gas for users both inside and outside city limits. Combined, that would cost $400 — the same as what nearby Baker charges, O’Brien said.
But when Noel made a motion to adopt the ordinance with the higher rates and O’Brien seconded it, councilmen Francis Nezianya and Lael Montgomery voted no. Because Councilman Hunter Landry was absent, there was a tie and the motion failed.
“I’m not going to punish the rest of the citizens of Zachary,” Nezianya said. It’s not fair to charge all customers a higher price because some people don’t pay their bills, he said.
Nezianya then motioned to adopt the ordinance as written and suggested that the council could revisit the rates in the future as needed. Montgomery supported that motion, but Noel and O’Brien opposed it, causing another tie.
City Attorney John Hopewell said he expects city leaders will want to draft another deposit increase ordinance and bring it to the council soon.
“Everybody recognizes this is something we need to do,” he said; it's just not clear how much the increase should be.
Also at the meeting, the council granted a conditional use permit for alcohol sales at the new Cajun Catch restaurant being built on High Street, and it introduced an ordinance to annex into city limits 104 acres of land on Rollins Road.