Property owner seeks reimbursement from Bland for damaged water heaters

Roxie Murphy

BLAND — Bland Board of Aldermen decided to waive $424.22 of a $474.22 bill during a special meeting Feb. 16 if the property owner agrees to pay the $50 service fee. 

However they will not pay for $126 in damages for a water heater, since the property owner failed to inform the city that she had disconnected her own water. 

Crystal Schlett asked aldermen Feb. 12 to “eat” a $565.19 water bill for 61,250 gallons of water that was used after a city official returned water services to a building during a routine shut-off order. The property owner said she had already shut the water off herself; the unexpected return service flooded the building. Her bill included the past due month, current month and a $50 service fee.

Schlett has been involved in renovating a building in Bland, she says, for the past 25 years. When she missed her January water bill, a shut off order was issued and the city disconnected services.

During the meeting, Schlett said her building was flooded because the city turned her water back on when it was already off. Aside from the flooded building, she said her hot water heaters burned up, and her electric bill was high.

“Who turned it off?” Mayor Pro-Tem Rodney Lexa asked.

“I did,” Schlett said.

Schlett said she has turned the water to the building off every winter for the last 25 years to keep the pipes from freezing. The city was not aware that she had been managing her own water services; to do so violates city ordinance for tampering with a water meter.

“He shut it off because he had a work order to shut it off,” Lexa said. 

“Well, he turned it on,” Schlett said again. 

Lexa said that Schlett didn’t notify the city it was shut off. 

“I called and said I am late paying a bill, I had an emergency, my dad has been in and out of the hospital, in and out of rehab, chest pain, the whole nine yards, and I did not make it down here to pay the bill,” Schlett said. “She said, ‘we shut it off’ and I said I pray to God you did not turn it back on.”

Schlett said her statement was never questioned. Then when she came down from St. Louis to store her Christmas tree, there was water flowing everywhere.

“When I shut it (water) off, I leave two faucets open for the air to push, in case the pipes do freeze, so the air has room to expand,” she said. “The water ran the whole time, burnt my water heaters out, flooded my building. So I was not very happy.”

Lexa said he understand that she was unhappy and asked what she wanted the city to do about it. 

“I would like you guys to eat the water bill and fix my water heaters. I got an estimate for just the parts and labor to fix them because it burnt my water heaters up in both buildings.

Alderman Jim Carpenter asked how the water heaters were burnt up.

“Because I had the water faucets straight up, hot and cold, so both pipe lines would be open, if the water freezes, it has room for both lines to expand,” Schlett said.

Schlett said the building could not be winterized because there was not enough insulation on the top floor and the pipes would freeze anyway. She uses a heater to try to keep the pipes warm, even though they are off. When she visits in the winter time, she turns the water back on herself.

“You drain your hot water heater?” Carpenter asked.

Schlett said she does not. She runs a small heater in each bathroom to keep the pipes warm in each bathroom and disconnects the water. If the temperature is below zero, the pipes would freeze anyway, and she says she does not have the proper shut off or drain things in yet.

“I have been trying to put what money I earn into the buildings, and that is one of the things on my list to do,” she said. Lexa advised that she really needs to have a city employee disconnect and return service to the building. Schlett asked if city hall is open on the weekends or what she is supposed to do if her building is flooded and she can’t reach anyone.

“The reason why we never said nothing is because we were not aware of it,” said city clerk Rachel Anderson. “You have always paid your bill on time, and we never had the incident that it would get shut off, so we were not aware that it was already shut off.”

Schlett said the old secretary was aware of the goings on.

“I don’t see the city paying for everything that was damaged,” Lexa said.

Schlett said she is not asking the board to pay for damages, only to fix the water heaters. She said most of the stuff sitting on the floors would be ok.

“I have a bill here, which is not very much; it’s $126 to fix them, to put the elements and the thermostats back in, and labor,” Schlett said.

Alderman Jim Carpenter asked if the water ran out of the hot water heater. “The water heaters ran constantly until they burn up,” she said.

Lexa explained when the water came back on and ran through the heaters, and kept running through because both valves were open.

“It also doubled my electric bill, and I am not even asking for that,” Schlett said. “As long as you guys do those two things, I would be happy.”

The board tabled the discussion with a 3-0 vote at the regular meeting and made their decision last Friday.

City ordinance governs water service disconnections

Crystal Schlett was in violation of the city of Bland’s ordinance governing the disconnection or reconnection of her water supply according to Sec. 22-12: Control of water supply, tools, etc…“The water commissioner shall cause the water to be turned on or off according to the ordinance of the city regulating the same, and any person who shall without proper authority use such keys, wrenches or fixtures shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor.” (Ord. 61, §13)

The city cannot be held responsible for damages, according to Sec. 22-13: City held free from liability…“The City of Bland reserves the right to hold itself, and hereby does declare itself free of all liability on account of damages to any person, firm or corporation due to any accident or the elements or other causes over which it has no control and any consumer contracting with the city for water service accepts the condition of this section.”  (Ord. 61, §14)

The city does not have to waive the water bill according to Sec. 22-14. Liability for water charges…“Consumers will be held liable for all water charges so long as they do not give notice to discontinue service. Tenants cannot become consumers except through their landlord, who, with the tenant shall be jointly held liable for water charges of the tenants.” (Ord. 61, §15)

The board reserves the right to make decisions on a case by case basis according to Sec. 22-18.  Settling of disputes…“The city of Bland hereby reserves the right to have the board of aldermen decide all questions of dispute which may arise between the city and consumer, and to have said board interpret the meaning of all ordinances or parts thereof pertaining to the water works system and use of the same, and the decision of the Board of Aldermen shall at all times be final and binding upon the city and the consumer, and the provisions of this section shall become a part of every contract for water between the city and consumers.” (Ord. 61, §19)