Blackville ‘disconnects’ on wording

Discussion about one word in a town ordinance was the hot topic during Blackville Town Council's regular meeting Dec. 16.
The word is "reconnect," and the dissuasion was about its meaning in the town's water-billing ordinance.
The ordinance states, "Bills not paid by the end of the business day on the 25th day of each month will be disconnected on the 26th day of the month. A reconnect fee of $25 will be added to each bill and the bill must be paid in full before services can be reconnected."
Once the 25th day passes, a list of customers who haven't paid their bills is generated. But the town doesn't always get around to disconnecting the water for everyone on the list on the 26th. So some customers have the chance to pay their bill before their water is cut off.
The question customers who land in that situation have is: Why am I'm being fined $25 when my water wasn't cutoff and therefore doesn't need to be reconnected?"
The fine is automatically added to customers' bills by the program the town uses to manage water and sewer payments.
The simple solution is to change the word "reconnect" to "processing" or some other abstract word. But council haggled over the issue for 20 minutes and didn't take any action on it - much to the dismay of town clerk Harriett McKnight who has to deal with the problem every month.
Early this year, the town enacted a new water-billing system to help decrease the number of customers with outstanding bills. Mayor Mike Beasley said the new method is working.
Before the new policy, the town regularly had over 100 customers each month with unpaid bills - some owing hundreds of dollars, Beasley said. The new system put the cutoff date in place every month so people wouldn't rack up huge fines.
McKnight said the town now averages about 85 cutoffs a month.
What water customers in Blackville need to know about their bill:
Bills are due in full on the 21st of each month. (If the 21st falls on a weekend, bills are due the following Monday)
On the 22nd, a 12 percent late fee is added to unpaid bills.
Bills not paid by the end of the business day on the 25th go on the cutoff list and a $25 dollar "reconnect fee" is added. Cutoffs begin on the 26th and bills must be paid in full before water is turned back on.
Council also had the second reading of an ordinance requiring a reduced-pressure-zone device, which helps prevent backflow, be installed on specific water customers' property to prevent unwanted chemicals and substances from entering the town's water system. Customers with a sprinkler system are included under the ordinance along with businesses - such as beauty parlors and funeral homes - that use certain chemicals.
A $4.50 per-month charge will be added to the water bill of those customers. The ordinance says the RPZ device -- ranging in price from under $100 to over $500 depending on the model -- will be installed and maintained at the property owner's expense.
In other business:
Beasley said two town-improvement projects will begin in January. One is the South Boundary renovation project, which includes replacing sidewalks and sewer lines, demolishing some buildings and improving street lighting.
The second project is looping the water system at Hwy. 78 around the industrial park and back toward Augusta Fiberglass. Beasley said the work will improve water flow.
A resident spoke about building up the neighborhood watch program. Meetings are held the second Tuesday each month at Tabernacle Baptist Church, but Beasley said he wants the January meeting to be at the community center. Anyone who wants to get involved should contact Rev. Herman Wallace.
"It takes groups of people in the community to make a difference," Beasley said. He thanked several police officers who were at the meeting for their work, and commended the rest of the town's staff.