The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners faced a tough choice this past week regarding a proposal to impose a $125 deposit on renters who are applying for city water and sewer service.
The idea came up because a disproportionate percentage of the bad debt the city incurs from the water and sewer customers comes from renters leaving unpaid bills, effectively leaving it up to good, solid-paying customers to pick up the extra financial slack.
That is simply not fair to those customers who pay their bills on time.
However, renters, particularly first-time or second-time renters, often are faced with significant financial hurdles in the form of deposits on the apartment or home they are renting, telephone, electric service and other expenses. Tacking on another $125 fee they must pay could be a financial hardship.
So the city commissioners chose to straddle the fence on this issue, requiring a $60 deposit which can help offset some of the bad debts while lessening the financial hurdle a deposit program might place before those seeking to rent a place in the city.
This would seem to be a wise compromise that addresses both concerns. However, if the city finds the financial burden of bad debt incurred by renters does not lessen over time, the city should come back to the issue in six months or a year.
There are other ways the city could lessen the financial blow to those who rent their residence. Allowing that deposit to be paid over time — perhaps in three or four monthly installments — could do that. Or, allowing city staff to waive the deposit for someone with a letter of good credit from other utilities might help as well.
We understand no one wants to make life difficult for those just starting out, or moving to the city for the first time, but it’s simply not right for those who do pay their city utilities on time to end up paying more because others skip town and leave unpaid balances.