The Piedmont City Council approved a utility policy Tuesday that states renters will be charged $100 more than homeowners to connect to utility services. The vote came after more than a month of public discussion about how the city could recoup the money it says it loses from unpaid utility bills.
“This decision that the city has made will be good for the utility and the residents,” electric Superintendent Casey Ponder said after the meeting.
Ponder said he hoped the increase would take effect "by next week."
Prior to Tuesday’s decision, all utility customers were charged a non-refundable $250 fee to be connected to the city’s water, gas, electric and sewer lines. Under the new policy, homeowners will be charged a $300 refundable deposit and renters will be charged a $400 refundable deposit.
A vote on the measure was postponed late last month after Councilwoman Brenda Spears raised questions about whether it would be discriminatory to charge renters more than homeowners for the same service.
City attorney Ron Allen said Tuesday it is lawful for the city to charge renters more than homeowners because city documents state that renters are more likely than homeowners to move without paying their utility bills.
“As long as it’s not motivated by age, race or sex discrimination, it’s permissible,” Allen said. “They have a legitimate governmental reason for doing that.”
Four members -- Mayor Rick Freeman and councilmen Bill Baker, Kenny Kelley and Terry Kiser -- voted in support of the measure. Councilmen Ben Keller and Frank Cobb abstained from voting. Spears and Councilwoman Millie Bramblett voted against the measure.
The measure had been introduced at a May meeting.
To ensure the city got a return for the service it provides renters, the council discussed several options that would affect customers’ bill payment plans. One measure would have required landlords to open utility accounts on behalf of their renters and another would have required renters to pay more than $500 in security deposits.
Both of those proposals inspired public debate between council members and landlords, who said the changes would have hurt their business.
“I can live with it,” Baker said of the measure he supported. “I found out the amounts were not going to increase drastically.”
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.