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Toledo reviewing utility policies after receiving complaint of unfair billing

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The Toledo City Council is reviewing their utility billing policies after hearing a complaint from a property owner who says he is being charged for services the city is not rendering.

Local property owner Roger Johnigk submitted a formal complaint to the council during their Aug. 5 meeting with legal representative Jim Nelson stating the city is billing Johnigk the equivalent of nine hookups for his apartment complex at 550 N 5th St. when only two water meters physically service the building.

"Dr. Johnigk is being billed by the City of Toledo every two months for the amount of water that passes through the two meters at the standard rate, plus the normal minimum rate charged for nine hookups to water and sewer," Nelson told the council. "In other words, he’s being billed and paying for the minimum usage for seven phantom hookups plus the two metered hookups."

Nelson argued this practice violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the city is applying billing ordinances differently to Johnigk than to other sewer/water customers, whom Nelson said are required only to pay for the physical water hookups servicing their property. He further asked the council to allow Johnigk to pay only for two meters servicing Johnigk’s apartment building rather than one hookup per unit.

Council members said, while they are taking the complaint seriously, they would not be able to respond to Johnigk’s concerns that night as they would need to confer with City Attorney Bill Boehm first as well as Mayor Jerry Pratt, who was not in attendance at the meeting. Mayor pro-tem Steve Dobosh offered Johnigk and Nelson the city’s assurances they wish to have the issue resolved in a prompt manner.

"I understand what you’re saying," stated Dobosh. "We’ll make a note of it to try and hustle this along as fast as possible."

"I didn’t expect a decision from you tonight," replied Nelson, "I just wanted to present the concerns."

Council members asked city staff to prepare a report for their next meeting of ordinances regulating utility billing for shared hookups, as well as a list of other apartment complexes in town that may be under similar circumstances of having fewer meters than units. Dobosh said, if Johnigk’s concerns were going to be addressed, he would like to see the same concerns from other property owners taken care of at the same time.

"I want to get it settled," he said.

Cities like Toledo have historically implemented policies charging building owners a utility rate per unit rather than per meter with the argument being made this spreads utility costs over a wider customer base, as well as simplifying who is responsible for paying utilities because all those occupying units are expected to pay. However, Toledo has also recently revised such policies as they relate to commercial units sharing a building and passed an ordinance in 2011 allowing up to three business to split the cost of a sewer/water bill if they are in the same building and share a common bathroom facility. This was done, according to officials at the time, explicitly to encourage businesses to move into town.

The next Toledo City Council meeting is scheduled for Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. in City Hall. Those with questions or in need of accommodations may call (360) 864-4564.

An apartment complex at 550 N 5th St. in Toledo owned by Roger Johnigk. Johnigk has filed a complaint with the city stating he is being charged for nine utility hookups (one per unit, plus the laundry room) when only two water meters service the building and is being asked to be billed for just the two meters. City officials say they are looking into Johnigk’s complaint and whether or not other building owners are in a similar situation.

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