IRON RIVER—The snow is gone, the freezing temperatures are a memory--distant or otherwise--but problems linked to this year’s difficult winter are still cropping up for some Iron River city residents and the City Council itself.
In an at-times heated regular monthly meeting on May 21, the council heard both sides of the main sticking point: Who is responsible for paying the bills that occurred when water lines had to be thawed in various parts of the city?
The disagreements are linked to issues such as: where the line froze and where the shut-off is located to whether the customer followed the let-run order issued by the city to keep water moving through the line so that it wouldn’t freeze as the frost deepened.
City resident Leonard Gasperini spoke passionately that he was not responsible for a $450 bill the city delivered for thawing the water line that supplies his home on Fern Street.
He stated that the valve was not on his property and that a neighbor plowed the snow that insulated the line from freezing.
“I have to pay the $450 to have this unthawed when it wasn’t my responsibility,” Gasperini said during public comment. “The shut line is across the street. It’s not on my property. Why do I have to go back and pay that? That doesn’t make sense.”
Gasperini also stated that his household followed the let-run policy, something City Manager Perry Franzoi disputed.
“You’re saying that not enough water went through there,” Gasperini said. “You’re coming up with this rule that if somebody had a problem after your (let-run) date, you mean there’s no recourse to this, even though it’s not our fault?”
“That’s the position we’ve taken,” Franzoi responded. “We issued the let-run, we let that water run, and we’ve incurred significant costs in doing that, and if the water was running at an adequate stream it would not freeze.”
“It was running at an adequate stream,” Gasperini countered. “You never even listened to the reasoning about what was going on.”
“I looked at the rationale, I investigated it,” Franzoi explained. “You were the only property up there to freeze.”
“I just told you why,” Gasperini argued, “it’s because of the shutoff. I didn’t put the shut-off there.”
After hearing the back-and-forth, Commissioner Rick Commenator suggested that the city “may have written our policy too tight so that Perry can’t waver on some of these specific instances.”
Mayor Terry Tarsi told Gasperini the city charter states that the city manager is in charge of these decisions and cautioned against making exceptions to the policy.
“If we say to (Franzoi), ‘Well, don’t charge him’, then the next meeting we’re going to have 25 people in here saying, ‘You did if for this guy.’”
Tarsi asked the commission if anyone wanted to make a motion that Franzoi not charge Gasperini. None was offered.
In his city manager’s report, Franzoi said that as of May 21, the city had collected a bit more than $6,500 out of approximately $70,000 that the city has been billed by the contractors that did the thawing work.
Franzoi went on to say that he’s heard many arguments like Gasperini offered.
“Many people are saying the water was running, and they feel that they’re not responsible for it,” Franzoi said. “I think it’s something that we need to take a look at.
“And as I concluded in my last statement, if we get into this situation next year, I would not recommend the city hiring contractors. I would recommend to leave it to the individual to hire the contractor and be responsible for the payment. We were trying to help people and give them water, and we spent a lot of money, and we’re having a hard time collecting on that.”
In another ongoing issue, city attorney Mark Tousignant said he has researched various property code--state, national and international--in order to find more tools for the city to deal with its blight problems.
Tousignant said the basic areas to confront are: the existing blight, especially in commercial areas; vacant properties and ownership; and rental properties that are substandard.
“I think we need to have a robust discussion about this in a work session: what parts of these codes we need and what we don’t need. We need more tools to deal with the issues we’re having here in the city.”
Tousignant also presented a resolution that would rename Lay Avenue as Washington Avenue. This would give the entire north-south street the same name and, it is hoped, end a lot of confusion.
At present, the street that starts at Franklin Street near Riverside Plaza is named Lay Avenue south to the former Stambaugh city limits, when it becomes Washington Avenue through the old Stambaugh downtown area. The double name was never changed when consolidation took effect in the early 2000s.