Gladstone looks at delinquent utility bills

GLADSTONE — The Gladstone City Commission took steps Monday to recover money the city lost due to unpaid utilities bills and to reduce future utility-related losses.

While some accounts are exempt — like those belonging to utility customers living in specific areas of low income housing — the commission can apply the balance of unpaid utility bills to property tax bills for the vast majority of Gladstone residents twice annually. Any balance from the last six months can be applied to either the summer tax bill or the winter tax bill, depending on the season, but if the commission chooses not to apply the delinquent bill to taxes, the value of the debt cannot be carried onto the next tax cycle.

Historically, applying these delinquent utilities has been standard procedure, as it is the last resort the city has to pressure utility customers to pay their bill. However, questions were raised Monday about how the city’s ordinances and policies apply to landlords whose tenants don’t make payments.

Jeff Diebolt, a landlord who learned his tenant was delinquent in mid-May when he was notified the bill could be applied to his taxes, expressed to the commission Monday that, in his opinion, the city was not following its policies and ordinances with regards to the timeline of notifying landlords.

“This is the way it’s always been done. That does not mean it’s right,” Diebolt told the commission.

City ordinance specifies that tenants and landlords, if applicable, will be notified when accounts are one month in arrears, but city staff argued that notifying landlords is not applicable in all cases.

For example, a landlord that has a lease on file with the city stating the tenant is responsible for utilities cannot be held accountable for their tenants’ lack of payment. Because there is no risk of a lien on the property, the city cannot legally notify the landlord an account is delinquent because doing so would be a violation of the tenant’s privacy.

This protection is not just limited to tenants. Anyone can request the