Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Saline County Water Utility Forced to Pay Refunds

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Saline County Water Utility Forced to Pay Refunds

Article excerpt

A troubled Saline County water utility will have to hire an accountant and give its customers refunds after failing to correct its financial course -- expenses the owner says it can't afford.

The Kansas Corporation Commission voted Tuesday to require small water utility Howison Heights to hire a qualified bookkeeper to do its record-keeping and accounting, and to pay that person from the salary previously designated for its owner Tim Howison. Previous KCC reports found Howison had mingled his personal finances with the utility's, and staff reported he was still using the same account for company expenses and his personal meals and medical care as late as September.

KCC staff also asked the commissioners to direct Howison Heights to file a detailed plan on how it would avoid foreclosure, complete needed improvements to the system and pay employment and property taxes. They also called for the utility to pay $1,000 per month, divided equally among its roughly 62 customers, as "a penalty for continued indifference toward Commission orders and directives," and threatened a proceeding that could revoke Howison Heights' certificate to operate -- effectively shutting it down -- if it failed to comply. If the company continues to have 62 customers, each would receive about $16.13 per month.

In its response, Howison Heights argued that the KCC had set its revenue too low, allowing it to charge about $6,250 per month instead of the $8,500 per month it said it needed to run the system, and that it doesn't have the money to pay a $1,000 penalty or hire a bookkeeper, since Howison's salary is being used to cover operating expenses.

The order didn't address customers' previous complaints about water odor, color, taste and pressure, but did indicate not all required upgrades had been completed.

State law allows for penalties of up to $1,000 for each violation of a KCC order, and staff apparently interpreted each month of noncompliance as a separate violation. …

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