From the Cascade Pioneer
While it’s been an issue some landlords and potential tenants blame for lack of growth in the downtown area and Cascade in general, the subject of high utility deposits was brought to the Cascade Municipal Utilities (CMU) Board recently.
The people most affected talked, and the Board listened.
The utility deposits were discussed at the July 13 board meeting, but since they were not on the agenda as an action item, any changes approved by the Board must be approved at its August meeting.
It’s then that the Board will vote on whether to change the current deposit structure and set the amount of future deposits required for gas and electric service at the highest month’s bill from the previous 12 months. Since 1999 or 2000, the two highest months had been used to determine the amount of the deposit. The deposit is held for five years under the current policy, but the Board agreed to trim that period back to 12 months of continuous timely payments.
Geoff Zoller is a landlord who’s owned business and residential properties in Cascade since 1978. He, along with some other landlords, brought up the deposits causing problems to landlords and tenants during a joint meeting of the City Council and CMU Board on May 11.
Zoller’s concern was not only that the deposits charged were unreasonably high and detrimental to his ability to rent, but that they also might be illegal.
Clay Gavin, the CMU Board president, assured the three people in the audience July 13 — including Zoller — that CMU was operating within state law.
“Our current policy, although we can certainly discuss changing it… is within Iowa law.”
Gavin said that utilities manager Ron Behnke, along with Shontele Orr, who also works in the office, helped research it. Behnke, along with the city attorney, assembled all their information and submitted it as an official response to the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), which had requested the information after receiving a complaint and documentation from Zoller.
Cascade maintains that some utilities are under the regulatory control of the IUB, but CMU is not, due to “home rule,” which gives local control to local utilities to set their deposits.
All “legalese” aside, Gavin told the Board, “We’re not forced to (consider lowering the deposits), but that doesn’t mean we can’t choose to do it.” He then recommended the Board change the amount of the deposit to the highest one month of the previous 12, and to shorten the length of time to hold the deposit.
“I think one year would be sufficient,” Behnke said. “One year of good on-time payments should suffice for a request of a refund of the deposit.”
Customers will need to keep track and ask for their deposit after the 12 months, because the city’s software doesn’t automatically flag accounts that are in good standing for 12 months.
During the July 13 meeting, Zoller said he wished CMU would be as “friendly” as the rest of the utilities. “I think we are,” Gavin responded. “If (people) have suggestions on how we can do better, we’re open to those. Don’t let things fester. I thought this matter was resolved for 15 years.”
Gavin and Orr told those in attendance that the issue of deposits was never brought before the Board. “That’s where decisions are made, by the Board,” said Orr.
Zoller left the meeting with his briefcase full of documentation he had assembled to make his point, but he apparently made his point adequately in May and can now empty out his briefcase.
“I got everything I wanted,” he said.