Casper Council Moves Forward On Making Landlords Cover Unpaid Utilities But Has Second Thoughts

The Casper City Council is one step closer to making landlords responsible for paying delinquent sewer and water bills for tenants with a 6-2 vote in favor of the ordinance. However, there was some apprehension toward the end of the meeting.

DK
Dale Killingbeck

February 07, 20244 min read

Casper City Council continues to discuss a proposal to make landlords responsible for making good on unpaid utility bills left by tenants.
Casper City Council continues to discuss a proposal to make landlords responsible for making good on unpaid utility bills left by tenants. (Legacy Property Management via apartments.com)

The Casper City Council is one step closer to making landlords responsible for paying delinquent sewer and water bills for tenants.

After hearing from a real estate agent and landlord, the council voted 6-2 Tuesday with one abstention to approve the second reading of a proposed ordinance that is hoped to shore up $700,000 to $800,000 in uncollected bills each year.

However, by the end of the meeting at least five council members remained hesitant about moving forward and indicated they wanted the ordinance back on their next work session agenda.

That hesitancy followed an attempt at an amendment to the ordinance by Councilor Kyle Gamroth who wanted to remove the language mandating landlords be responsible for the unpaid bills. He was joined by Councilor Amber Pollock in voting for it. Both expressed reservations related to the potential for more homelessness in the community.

Question About Process

The meeting drew longtime Casper real estate agent Ronna Boril and landlord Patrick Sweeney to the microphone to voice concerns about the ordinance with the council. Boril questioned the city’s processes.

“Maybe (the proposed ordinance change) is reasonable, but I think you need to take some steps first to make sure that your business practices are the best business practices that you can put in place,” Boril said. “Being someone who has looked at credit reports for the last 50 years, I don’t see a lot of collection from the city of Casper on utilities. They don’t show up on credit reports.”

Sweeney told the council the proposal represents big changes and he wanted to make sure it was well thought out. He suggested since the city is potentially paying $100,000 and more annually to a collection agency for uncollected bills, maybe another employee should be hired to help tighten collections.

City Financial Services Director Jill Johnson said one person is solely responsible for the 20,000 utility bills each month and outlined the process that includes an initial delinquent notice, phone call, letter, another phone call and then shutoff of services for an unpaid bill.

City Manager Carter Napier added the city already puts a lot of effort into collections prior to turning bills over to the agency.

Councilman Kyle Gamroth attempted to make a statement about the ordinance, but was shut down by Mayor Steve Cathey as being out of order. Cathey would go on to apologize at the end of the meeting that he was the one who didn’t follow procedure.

Landlord Patrick Sweeney addresses the Casper City Council about proposed changes to the city's utility ordinance.
Landlord Patrick Sweeney addresses the Casper City Council about proposed changes to the city's utility ordinance. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

‘Political Capital’ At Stake

Before he was ruled out of order, Gamroth said he believes the city and the council have a certain amount of “political capital” to spend, and if it spends more than it “banked” it will lose public trust.

He said the council has not thought fully about all the consequences of the proposed changes to the utility ordinance.

“I personally don’t believe the juice is worth the squeeze,” he said. “Homelessness and the crunch people are feeling from property taxes, inflation and other outside pressures are all very real. I know that I am victim of it, and I imagine others are as well.”

The city has shared that there are $700,000 to $800,000 in unpaid utility bills annually. The city turned over 2,877 accounts to the Collections Center of Wyoming at the end of fiscal year 2023 that totaled $681,888. The city pays a 24% percent commission for any collections made.

At the end of the meeting, Councilwoman Jai-Ayla Sutherland said she believed “there’s still a lot to discuss and work through” about the proposed ordinance.

“I really hear the concerns of my colleagues about homelessness,” she said, adding she almost abstained from approving the ordinance’s second reading, instead of favoring it.

Cathey asked for a show of hands for who wanted to place the ordinance on next week’s work session agenda.

Hands from Gamroth, Sutherland, Pollock and council members Michael Bond and Brandy Haskins went up.

“OK, that’s a majority,” Cathey said.

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at dale@cowboystatedaily.com.

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