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Landlords protest trash bills

As River Falls prepared to roll its past-due utility accounts into a more urgent state of collection at the City Council meeting Tuesday night, 17 landlords complained by letter or in person about the trash-billing process handled through Veolia.

The city switched from Waste Management two years ago, going from monthly billing through the city to quarterly billing through Veolia.

Property owner Frances Ogden said the 'new' contract savings aren't worth it. He said tenants tend not to open the bills addressed to "current resident" or may leave during a billing cycle.

Property owner Kipp Christianson agreed, saying he'd been shocked to learn he owes for a year of service because when he lived here, individual tenants were responsible for starting, stopping and paying for garbage service.

The Council members voted to move all the delinquent accounts except garbage into a more urgent collection status, but asked city staff to review the garbage-billing procedures.

To the letters

Writers criticized:

  • The city for being willing to make arrangements with tenants to begin utility service but unwilling to notify the landlords of what arrangements have been made.
  • Billing for three months' service at a vacant property with no bins, then denying a credit.
  • The process for being too slow and unfair, with a 10% past-due charge to boot.
  • How sometimes, the city's and Veolia's "amount owed" doesn't match.

Two owners discovered that they may not cancel garbage service unless water service has also been stopped. They needed only water to show the house for sale.

Council Member David Cronk remarked about the number of complaints, "I'm wondering if we shouldn't streamline that."

Council Member Scott Morrissette agreed they show a problem, adding that he was disappointed a Veolia representative had not come to the meeting.

Council Member David Reese said the contract requires River Falls to help collect past-due accounts, but he wondered if the city has access to the same data and records Veolia does.

He also reasoned that owners could add garbage-service cost onto rent and landlords could do more to "cover themselves."

Council Member Christopher Gagne suggested the city separate trash and water service.

City Administrator Scot Simpson acknowledged the protest and said City Engineer Kristy Treichel would work with the landlords experiencing problems.

He suggested that the complaints are few relative to the 4,500 accounts Veolia maintains, adding, "I don't believe there is a systemic issue with their billing.

Most involved in the discussion agreed that Veolia's core service -- hauling away the trash and recyclables -- has been good and reliable.