MUNSTER | The Town Council on Monday approved a major change to the way the town is allowed to shut off water to non-paying customers.
It stems from a recent federal court ruling against the Indiana town of Crothersville.
That ruling by the U.S. District Court in the Southern Indiana District set a precedent for providing notice to customers and a due process procedure for an administrative hearing prior to any discontinuance of water service.
The court said the agreement for water service is a contract that could not be terminated without “fundamental due process.”
Munster Town Attorneys Eugene Feingold and Steven Kennedy reviewed the ruling and provided language for the amendment to the town’s utility shut-off ordinance and the hearing procedure to be followed before water service can be discontinued. The change is effective immediately.
Munster now must give at least seven-day prior written notice, rather than the previous three-day notice, either mailed to the customer at the address or personally delivered to that customer.
The notice must give the reason for the shut-off and provide information about an administrative hearing the customer can request prior to discontinuation of water service.
The administrative hearing will be presided over by the town manager in his capacity as director of the Water Department. If the town manager is absent, the hearing may be held before his designated representative.
The clerk-treasurer will be responsible for preparing information prior to the hearing, including the delinquent amount owed, a 12-month payment history of the account and contact information for the person/agency responsible for payment of the outstanding bill.
The town manager or his designee has the authority to affirm, modify or reverse the order to discontinue water service, according to the ordinance.
That decision will be provided in writing within one business day of the appeal hearing, although “every effort should be made to render a decision at the conclusion of the hearing,” according to the hearing procedure document adopted Monday.
If the appeal results in allowing the water to remain on, any conditions will be put in writing. Failure of the customer to fulfill those conditions will result in the water service being shut off immediately throughout further appeal.