Saline City Council plans to review a policy on penalties to late paying citizens and businesses after it denied American Soy’s request to waive a $3,278 charge for an overdue water bill.
Saline City Code authorizes the assessment of a 10 percent penalty plus a .75 percent per month interest charge on all bills not paid.
The city charged American Soy a $3,278 penalty on a past due balance of $30,494 on its May water and sewer bill. An official from American Soy told city staff the check was sent July 1 – three days before the due date. American Soy sent a replacement check July 11 for the May charges, but the penalty and interest charges were not paid.
In a letter to the city council, a company official requested the penalty be waived.
“In the past, American Soy Products has made payments on time and has had no issue. We would be very grateful if Council would waive the penalty and interest in light of the fact that American Soy Products has no history of late payment,” company Treasurer Susan Stickney wrote.
After a discussion, Saline City Council voted 5-2 to deny American Soy’s request. Council members David Rhoads and Jim Peters supported the company’s request.
Peters, who several months ago voted in favor of an individual’s request to have the city waive a penalty, said it was unfair to charge late fees in this case.
“It appears the Post Office dropped the ball. It’s hard for me to imagine penalizing someone who sent the bill,” Peters said. “American Soy is a good neighbor who contributes to local festivals and events and they always come to the plate for us.”
“Based on the information presented, American Soy made a good faith effort to do what they were required to do. It seems inappropriate to charge in excess of $3,000 when this did not cost the city any real money out of pocket,” Rhoads said. “I think this is different from people who have said they forgot to pay. We ought to try to work with (American Soy).”
The precedent, however, is that city council has not been forgiving of late payers. Resident Mary Hess spoke to the issue at the outset of Monday’s meeting during public comment.
“One time I made out my check and it went between the cushions of the couch and I paid the penalty. It doesn’t matter whether it’s $1,000, $2,000 or my $15. I paid,” Hess said.
Council member Lee Bourgoin said he wasn’t in favor of voting against the policy. Instead, he suggested drafting a less punitive policy that council believed was fair.
“I don’t believe in making exceptions once we have a rule. But I think rules should be fair. We should look at this issue again,” Bourgoin said, adding that if a new rule was drafted, the city could choose to retroactively pay back part of the penalties issued to customers over the past year. “I don’t want to be arbitrary. We don’t know if others didn’t try to pay their bill.”
Mayor Brian Marl agreed with Bourgoin’s position of sticking to the policy.
“Our policy penalizes people who don’t pay water, sewer or tax bills on time. We have a precedent that is pretty well established,” Marl said. “No business or individual chooses not to pay in malice. American Soy is an outstanding corporate citizen.”
Rhoads disagreed that waiving the fee for American Soy could be construed as arbitrary.
“We have a policy that says city council can dismiss fees. If we don’t ever want to do that, we ought not to have that policy,” Rhoads said.
Council directed Treasurer Mickie Jo Bennett to look at other community’s penalties and recommend a new policy to council.