Chapter 15.04
WATER AND SEWER ADMINISTRATION AND RATES

Sections:

15.04.005    Purposes – Liability for damage.

15.04.010    Definitions.

15.04.020    Responsibility for administration and enforcement.

15.04.030    Entry of premises for inspection.

15.04.040    Prohibited acts.

15.04.050    Violation – Penalty.

15.04.060    Reduction of water supplied.

15.04.070    Reduced rates for low income senior and disabled citizens.

15.04.080    Ownership and control.

15.04.090    Payment, temporary discontinuance, delinquent accounts, and penalty.

15.04.095    Finance director’s authority to adjust water and sewer bills.

15.04.100    Delinquency.

15.04.105    Lien for delinquent sewer payments.

15.04.110    Premises liable for charges – Shut off for nonpayment.

15.04.120    Appeals.

15.04.130    Restoration of service by tenant.

15.04.140    Cash deposits.

15.04.150    Severability.

15.04.005 Purposes – Liability for damage.

This title is enacted as an exercise of the police power of the city, to protect and preserve the public peace, health, safety and welfare by regulating the city’s water, sewer, and surface and stormwater utility. The city recognizes that it cannot solve all problems related thereto by enactment of this type of legislation; this title is therefore to be construed as an effort to make best possible use of available resources, and not an attempt to provide complete protection to all the city’s inhabitants.

A. It is expressly the purpose of this title to provide for and promote the health, safety and welfare of the general public, and not to create or designate any particular class of persons who will or should be especially protected by its terms.

B. It is the specific intent of this title to place the obligation of complying with its requirements on the owner or occupant of premises within its scope, and no provision of this title is intended to impose any duty whatsoever upon the city or any of its officers, for whom the implementation or enforcement of this title is discretionary and not mandatory.

C. Nothing contained in this title is intended to be, nor shall be construed to create, the basis for any liability on the part of the city or its officers for any injury or damage resulting from the failure of the owner or occupier of premises to comply with the provisions of this title, or by reason or in consequence of any act or omission in connection with the implementation or enforcement of this title on the part of the city or its officers. [Ord. 10056 § 3, 1990; Ord. 9073 § 4, 1982].

15.04.010 Definitions.

Unless the context clearly requires otherwise, the definitions in this section apply throughout this title:

“Main” means those pipes of the water distribution system and those pipes of the sewer and surface and stormwater collection system located in a street, alley or dedicated easement, owned and/or maintained by the city.

“Premises” means a single building site, or single lot or aggregation of lots tied together by agreement for the purpose of obtaining a building permit or utility service.

“Unmetered duplex” means a single premises receiving water or water and sewer services, whose water service is not metered, and on which a duplex is located. This category includes only those duplexes receiving service as of June 15, 1981, the date the ordinance originally codified in this title was adopted. [Ord. 2003-05-024 § 1; Ord. 2001-05-035; Ord. 2001-02-007 § 1; Ord. 9618 § 1, 1986; Ord. 8982 § 1, 1981].

15.04.020 Responsibility for administration and enforcement.

The director of public works is designated as the city’s officer responsible for the administration and enforcement of this title. [Ord. 8982 § 2, 1981].

15.04.030 Entry of premises for inspection.

A. Whenever necessary to make an inspection to enforce any of the provisions of this chapter, or whenever the director of public works has reasonable cause to believe that there exists on any premises any condition not in conformity with any of the provisions of this title, the director may enter such premises at all reasonable times to inspect the same or to perform any duty imposed upon him; provided, that if such building or premises be occupied, he shall first present proper credentials and demand entry; and if such building or premises be unoccupied, he shall first make a reasonable effort to locate the owner or other persons having charge or control of the building or premises and demand entry. If entry is refused, the director shall obtain an administrative inspection warrant to secure entry.

B. No owner or occupant of any premises shall fail or neglect, after proper demand is made, to permit entry by the director for the purpose of inspection to enforce this title. [Ord. 8982 § 3, 1981].

15.04.040 Prohibited acts.

A. To open, close, or interfere with any fire hydrant, stop valve or stopcock belonging to the city unless authorized to do so by the public works department. The city fire department, or volunteer fire departments holding the appropriate permit, are exempt from this subsection;

B. To disturb or damage any pipe, machinery, or other property of the department of public works;

C. To introduce any unauthorized substance into any city reservoir or any other part of the city’s water distribution system;

D. To disturb, damage, or interfere with any manhole, pipe, pump station, or other appurtenance of the sewer; or to deposit or discharge, or cause to be deposited or discharged, any solid, liquid, or gaseous waste through other than an approved connection to the sewer system;

E. To violate any restrictions on water usage imposed by the department or as otherwise provided by BMC 15.04.060(A) or (D);

F. To waste water or allow it to be wasted. For purposes of this section, to waste water includes, by way of example and not limitation, applying water to a landscape in sufficient quantity to cause significant runoff of that water to impervious areas; to allow significant overspray onto impervious areas such as streets, sidewalks, and driveways; applying water to a landscape in sufficient quantity to cause substantial puddling of that water at the ground surface; allowing imperfect or leaking pipes or other fixtures; or to use toilets without self-closing valves; or to allow any pipes or faucets to run open for more than 12 hours for any reason including to prevent the water service from freezing;

G. To apply water to purposes other than that for which the original application for service was made, unless a new application has been approved in the same manner as an original application;

H. To introduce stormwater, surface drainage, or septic tank wastes into the sanitary sewer system.

I. To discharge the following substances into the city sewer system (provided, that the prohibition of discharge of these substances shall not be construed as prohibiting any special agreement between the city and any person whereby waste of unusual strength or character may be admitted to the city sewer system):

1. Any solids, liquids, or gasses which may by themselves or by interaction with other substances cause fire or explosive hazards or be injurious to persons, property, or the wastewater treatment facility;

2. Any noxious or malodorous solid, liquid, or gas which may by itself or by interaction with other substances be capable of creating a public nuisance or hazard to life or preventing entry into the sewer or treatment works for their maintenance or repair;

3. Any solids, greases, waxes, slurries, or viscous material of such character or in such quantity that may cause an obstruction to the flow in the sewer or otherwise interfere with the proper functioning of treatment works;

4. Any toxic substance, chemical elements, or compounds in quantities sufficient to impair the operation of the treatment works; or that will pass through the treatment works and cause the effluent to exceed Department of Ecology discharge permit limits or cause the receiving water quality standards to be violated;

5. Any liquids having a pH lower than 6.5 or higher than 8.5 or having corrosive properties capable of causing damage, or hazards to the sewer system, persons, equipment, or treatment works;

6. Any radioactive isotopes;

7. Any liquid or vapor having a temperature greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit;

8. Any garbage that has not been ground or shredded;

9. Any other substance which, in the opinion of the public works director, may be harmful to the structure personnel, processes, or operation of the sewer system. [Amended during 2013 recodification; Ord. 2006-06-063; Ord. 2001-07-051; Ord. 10093 §§ 5, 6, 1990; Ord. 10056 § 3, 1990; Ord. 9846 § 1, 1988; Ord. 8982 § 4, 1981].

15.04.050 Violation – Penalty.

A. The commission of an act prohibited by BMC 15.04.040(A), (B), (C), (D), (E) or (I) shall be considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 per violation. Each and every day that such prohibited act continues shall be considered a separate violation.

B. Before any person(s) is/are charged with a violation of BMC 15.04.040(E), (F), (G), or (H), an attempt shall be made to give such person a written notice of such violation, either by personal service or by certified mail, return receipt requested, advising that the city is contemplating a criminal complaint against that person(s) and that such person(s) shall have seven days from the date of such notice to discontinue the prohibited activity, except for violations on water usage imposed by the department pursuant to BMC 15.04.040(E), and 15.04.060(A) and (D), for which the prohibited activity shall be discontinued immediately. If such person(s) fails to permanently cease such activity within the foregoing appropriate time period, such person(s) shall be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 per violation. Each and every day that such prohibited activity continues beyond the notice period shall be considered a separate violation.

C. This section does not apply to specific civil penalty amounts set out for the late payment of water, sewer and storm and surface water bills as such penalties are civil debts, collected in the same manner as delinquent payments. [Ord. 2013-09-073 § 25; Ord. 2001-07-051; Ord. 2001-02-007; Ord. 10093 § 9, 1990; Ord. 9618 § 2, 1986; Ord. 9371 § 1, 1984; Ord. 8982 § 5, 1981].

15.04.060 Reduction of water supplied.

A. In case of emergency, shortage, or whenever the public health, safety, or the equitable distribution of water demands, the director of public works may change, reduce, or limit the time for uses of water, or may impose restrictions and schedules for specified uses of water, or may temporarily discontinue specified uses of water.

B. Water service may be temporarily interrupted for purposes of making repairs, extensions, or doing other necessary work.

C. Before changing the use of water, the department shall notify, insofar as practicable, all water consumers affected.

D. In addition to the penalties described in BMC 15.04.040(E), persons found in violation of this section and as provided by BMC 15.04.040(E) and 15.04.050(A) and (B) shall be subject to water shutoff upon nonpayment of fines, or for continuing violation of this section. Each and every day that such prohibited activity continues beyond the notice period shall be considered a separate violation. [Ord. 2001-07-051; Ord. 8982 § 6, 1981].

15.04.070 Reduced rates for low income senior and disabled citizens.

A. Any low income senior or disabled citizen who satisfies the reduced rate criteria in this section and who lives in a residence receiving a separate city of Bellingham water or sewer service and water or sewer bill is entitled to a rate reduction for water, sewer and storm and surface water utilities.

B. A senior aged 62 or older or a disabled person with a gross household income of $35,000 or less in 2012 (adjusted annually thereafter using the Whatcom County low income property tax exemption qualifying annual household income eligibility limit) is entitled to have their water, sewer and storm and surface water rates reduced by the following amounts:

Household Income

Percent Reduction

0 – 50 percent of the qualifying income

75%

Greater than 50 percent – 75 percent of the qualifying income

50%

Greater than 75 percent – 100 percent of the qualifying income

25%

For purposes of this section, “gross income” shall have the same definition as provided in 26 USC 61, as currently enacted or hereafter amended.

C. Nonprofit agencies providing affordable housing for low income households and public housing authorities, such as the Bellingham housing authority or other similar entity, receiving public funds for low income housing may obtain a rate reduction of 10 percent if the premises have rents restricted by a federal, state or city housing program for households earning less than 60 percent of area median income (AMI).

D. All persons claiming the discount provided for in this section shall first be required to file an application with the city requesting the reduction. The application shall provide information sufficient for the city to verify the applicant’s eligibility to participate in this reduced rate program. Customers receiving the rate reduction must renew their application annually in accordance with administrative procedures promulgated by the finance director. [Ord. 2012-12-059 § 1; Ord. 2006-06-063; Ord. 2005-07-056; Ord. 2003-05-024 § 2; Ord. 2001-02-007; Ord. 10056 § 3, 1990; Ord. 9846 § 2, 1988; Ord. 9618 § 3, 1986; Ord. 9371 § 1, 1984; Ord. 9164 § 1, 1982; Ord. 8982 § 7, 1981].

15.04.080 Ownership and control.

The ownership of all water, sewer and surface and stormwater mains and appurtenances in the public streets or other utility easements owned by the city is vested solely in the city, and the person responsible for the construction of such mains shall furnish a deed of conveyance for such mains upon acceptance by the department of public works. The department will operate and maintain all approved and accepted mains in established city and county streets or other utility rights-of-way. It shall be a misdemeanor to remove or change any part thereof without the approval of the department. [Ord. 10056 § 3, 1990; Ord. 8982 § 8, 1981].

15.04.090 Payment, temporary discontinuance, delinquent accounts, and penalty.

A. Billing shall be completed by the finance department on a basis as determined by the finance director. Failure to pay said bills in full by the due date listed on the bill shall render the account delinquent.

B. Billings shall be addressed to the occupant of a premises, unless the owner, the purchaser under a real estate contract, or the authorized agent of either requests otherwise in writing.

C. If a billing statement contains charges for more than one utility, the city will apply the moneys received in the following manner: first, to pay off any outstanding sewer charges; second, to pay off any outstanding storm and surface water charges; and third, to pay off any outstanding water charges.

D. If water service is temporarily discontinued as provided for in BMC 15.08.190 as currently enacted or hereafter amended, the city will not bill for either water or sewer utility service during the prior city authorized temporary discontinuance period. However, during the authorized temporary discontinuance period, storm and surface water utility fees and charges will continue to accrue at the normal rate and will continue to be regularly billed unless the customer prepays the entire amount of the storm and surface water charges that will accrue during the temporary discontinuance period before the temporary discontinuance period begins, unless provided otherwise by written agreement.

E. Delinquent accounts for sewer and storm and surface water utility charges may bear interest at a rate of up to eight percent per annum, or at such other rate as may be authorized by law, computed on a monthly basis from the date of delinquency until paid in full.

F. In addition to interest, a delinquent water, sewer and/or storm and surface water utility account may also be charged a late-payment penalty of $5.00 or one and one-half percent per billing period, whichever is greater. [Ord. 2004-11-081 § 1; Ord. 2001-02-007; Ord. 9846 § 3, 1988; Ord. 9618 § 4, 1986; Ord. 8982 § 9, 1981].

15.04.095 Finance director’s authority to adjust water and sewer bills.

A. The finance director or the finance director’s designee is authorized to adjust water and/or sewer bills for metered service customers in accordance with the following procedure:

1. When the customer has suffered a service break or leak in the portion of the service between the water meter and the external entrance to the premises or the first branch off of the service line, whichever occurs first.

2. No adjustment for water bills shall be allowed for any leaks or service breaks that occur after the external entrance to the premises. This shall include, by way of example and not limitation, leaks in toilets, faucets, water heaters, and spigots. An adjustment for the sewer bill may be made after the external entrance to the premises when it can be demonstrated that the excess water consumption did not enter the sanitary sewer system.

3. Each metered service shall only be allowed one administrative adjustment during the life of that metered service.

4. The break or leak in the service line and its repair must be documented in a manner that is acceptable to the finance director or the finance director’s designee. Documentation shall include a licensed plumber’s itemized invoice, repair order, city of Bellingham public works department inspection documentation or other documentation as necessary to support the adjustment request and to document any repairs.

5. A request for an adjustment shall be on form(s) provided by the finance department.

6. The finance director’s designee shall determine the amount of the adjustment in his or her discretion. The adjustment amount shall not exceed 50 percent of the amount determined to be the excess usage charge for water and 100 percent of the excess usage charge for sewer; provided, that the excess water consumption did not enter the sewer system. No adjustment for sewer charges shall be allowed if the excess consumption entered the sewer. Historical records may be used to assist in the determination of the adjustment amount.

B. Any determination made under this section may be appealed in accordance with the procedures in BMC 15.04.120. [Ord. 2002-03-016].

15.04.100 Delinquency.

A. In the event of any nonpayment for water, sewer, or storm and surface water utility services for any billing cycle, the city shall have all remedies as provided in this chapter or by any other applicable law, including, without limitation, liens and/or shutting off the service. However, prior to any service being shut off, the finance department shall provide written notice of nonpayment at least 10 days prior to actual shut off of service. The written notice shall be mailed to the premises’ occupant and owner or owner’s agent, if the owner provides written instructions to the city to do so.

B. The notice shall specify at least:

1. That payment for service is overdue, the total amount due, and that the statutory lien may be imposed;

2. That service will be shut off unless payment in full is made to the city within 10 days;

3. The address and telephone number of the finance department;

4. That a hearing may be requested;

5. That the city will charge a turn-on and turn-off fee before service is resumed following a shut off of service; and

6. That service will not be shut off while a hearing is pending. [Ord. 2006-06-063; Ord. 2001-02-007; Ord. 9562, 1986; Ord. 8982 § 10, 1981].

15.04.105 Lien for delinquent sewer payments.

In addition to any other remedies permitted by law, the city shall have a lien pursuant to Chapter 35.67 RCW, as currently enacted or hereinafter amended, for all delinquent and unpaid sewer or storm and surface water rates and charges, including interest thereon, against any parcel or premises for which the sewer and/or storm and surface water rates and charges have been furnished. Said lien shall have the superiority, and may be foreclosed upon, as described in Chapter 35.67 RCW, as currently enacted or hereinafter amended. The city shall be entitled to charge and collect an amount sufficient to recover the city’s costs associated with recording the lien and an additional amount sufficient to recover the city’s costs associated with releasing the lien. The city shall be entitled to recover its costs incurred in collecting any delinquent sewer or surface and stormwater payments, including court costs and attorney fees. [Ord. 2010-01-006; Ord. 2004-11-081 § 2; Ord. 2001-02-007; Ord. 9618 § 6, 1986].

15.04.110 Premises liable for charges – Shut off for nonpayment.

A. All water, sewer, and storm and surface water rates and charges will be charged against the premises to which the services are furnished as well as against the owner or the purchaser under a real estate contract of the property.

B. If for any cause any sums owing for either water, sewer, and/or storm and surface water service become delinquent, the water may be shut off after providing notice of delinquency and an opportunity for a hearing as provided for in this chapter before the city’s hearing board.

C. Water may not be turned on to the same property until all delinquencies have been paid in full, together with shut-off and turn-on fees, or any other outstanding charges, fees, penalties and interest, except as otherwise provided by the city.

D. No change of ownership or occupancy of the premises shall affect the application of this section. [Ord. 2001-02-007; Ord. 9618 § 7, 1986].

15.04.120 Appeals.

A. Any person objecting to any water or sewer charge or fee imposed under this chapter may request a hearing before the city’s utility hearing board (the “board”) by filing a written request with the finance director within five business days of notice of the charge. The city shall make forms available for that purpose. Any persons objecting to surface and stormwater utility charges or fees shall use the procedure outlined in BMC 15.16.060.

B. Services shall not be shut off while a hearing is pending. However, the finance director may require that payment of any outstanding balance, or portion thereof, be made pending the outcome of the hearing.

C. The members of the hearing board shall be the finance director, the director of public works, and the assistant directors of public works, or their designees. The city attorney or a representative of the city attorney’s office shall serve as the board’s legal advisor.

D. At the hearing, the board will consider the objections made by the applicant and will correct, revise, raise, lower, change, or modify the charge or fee, or set aside the charge or fee, as deemed appropriate by the board and as allowed by law.

E. Decisions of the board may be appealed to the city’s hearing examiner by filing a written request with the office of the hearing examiner within five business days of the date of the board’s written decision. [Ord. 2002-10-069 § 32; Ord. 2001-02-007; Ord. 10032, 1990; Ord. 9618 § 8, 1986].

15.04.130 Restoration of service by tenant.

A. If the occupant of a premises is neither the owner nor the purchaser under a real estate contract, and service is shut off, or notice is given of an intended shutoff, the occupant may restore or maintain service by:

1. Making an application to the finance director which provides sufficient information to satisfy the finance director that the occupant is not responsible for the delinquency;

2. Making the required cash deposit; and

3. Agreeing to be responsible for all billings incurred during the period of occupancy.

B. Upon departure of the occupant from the premises, the water shall be shut off until delinquencies, including shutoff and turn-on charges, are paid.

C. Restoration of service to a premises under this section shall not affect any rights the city has against the owner or the purchaser under a real estate contract of the premises, or against the premises itself, for payment of delinquent charges. [Ord. 9618 § 9, 1986].

15.04.140 Cash deposits.

A. Cash deposits, or other security satisfactory to the finance director, may be required by the finance director to secure payment of charges:

1. When service is restored by the occupant of a premises which the occupant does not own; or

2. When the customer files bankruptcy; or

3. In such other cases where a substantial need to protect the city is found to exist.

B. The amount of a cash deposit shall be determined by the finance director, but shall not exceed the highest payment made for three months’ billing during the preceding year, recomputed at the current year’s rates. If billings from the previous year are unavailable, then billings to a comparable premises elsewhere in the city shall be used.

C. Cash deposits may be used for the following:

1. Subsequent to making the deposit, if delinquencies in payment result in a shutoff, the deposit shall be applied against the delinquencies and any resultant fees.

2. Upon vacation of the premises by the customer, the deposit may be reimbursed, or applied as a credit to any outstanding account, in the city’s sole discretion. [Ord. 2001-02-007; Ord. 9618 § 10, 1986].

15.04.150 Severability.

If any provision of this chapter or its application to any person, entity or circumstance is held invalid, the remainder of this chapter or the application of the provision to other persons, entities or circumstances shall not be affected. [Ord. 2001-02-007].