Mayor says water theft will see a prosecution push from city

Posted September 12, 2023 at 1:35 pm

Water related issues, including an announced crackdown on water related theft, questions pertaining to the Duvall Valley water line project and updates on water plant improvements took up much of the discussion at last week’s regular meeting of the Albany City Council.
All members were present for the just over 40 minute session, held September 5, which saw several items discussed among the mayor and council–of which all members were present–as well as members of the public who were in attendance.
(A separate article on issues not related to water taken up by the council can be found beginning on page 1.)
Albany Mayor Steve Lawson began the meeting by announcing, and distributing to council members, laws pertaining to “theft of utilities,” and in the case of the city, he was referring to suspected theft of water, which attributes to water loss and revenue loss.
The mayor indicated that some people had apparently been “stealing water,” and said anyone caught doing so “will be prosecuted.”
The theft of water issue has been an ongoing problem for the city, and causes the loss of water from the system and costs the water department much needed revenue.
Following the meeting, the mayor said one way a person could obtain water illegally, which is a theft of service, is “they actually cut the line and put in a “T” or they put in a piece of pipe where a meter used to be if the meter has been removed for some reason.”
Under krs 514.060, theft of services, a person is guilty if the person “intentionally obtains services by deception or threat or by false token or other means to avoid payment for the services which he or she knows are available only for compensation.”
Section (3) of the aforesaid statute states, “in any prosecution for theft of gas, water, electricity, or other public service, where the utility supplying the service had installed a meter or other device to record the amount of service supplied, proof that:
(a) The meter or other device has been altered, tampered with, or bypassed in a manner so as to prevent or reduce the recording thereof;
(b) Service has been, after having been disconnected by the utility supplying service, reconnected without authorization of the utility;
Shall be prima facie evidence of the intent to commit theft of service by the person or persons obligated to pay for the service supplied through the meter or other device.
By law, theft of services is a Class B misdemeanor unless:
(a) The value of the service is $500 or more, but less than $1,000, in which case it is a Class A misdemeanor;
(b)  The value of the service is $1,000 or more but less than $10,000, in which it is a Class D felony;
(c) A person has three or more convictions under paragraph (a) within the last five years, in which case it is a Class D Felony. The five year period shall be measured from the dates on which the offenses occurred;
(d) The value of the service is $10,000 or more, in which case it is a Class C felony.
The statute further reads that “if any person commits two or more separate offenses of theft of services within 90 days, the offenses may be combined and treated as a single offense, and the value of the property in each offense may be aggregated for the purpose of determining the appropriate charge.”
Another issue relating to water involved some questions that three individuals, including two Clinton County Fiscal Court Magistrates, Jason Pitman and Gary Ferguson, and a Bald Rock resident, Ray Vibbert, had pertaining to the Duvall Valley Water Improvement Project, which is set to get under construction in a matter of days.
Pitman told the council that water pressure in some areas such as Sugar Valley was extremely low around the hours of 3-5 p.m. with the answer from water department employees present noting that usually more water is being used around that time.
The new lines that will be installed with the project should alleviate that problem. However, it was noted that may be sometime in coming before construction is completed.
“The population (in the area) has outgrown the water system,” one person stated.
Water Department Supervisor David Guffey said the local system was already generating water at the five million per day capacity at times, but added, they would be “better prepared to put the water out there…with less breakdowns in the system as well.”
Mayor Lawson said the city was working on finding “where the (lost) water is going,” adding, “there may be more theft (of water) going on than we were aware of.”
Ferguson told the council they were just trying to get some answers to questions they, as county officials, had been asked by their constituents about the water situation, saying magistrates had been bombarded by questions too.
Guffey said, “If we can get water to the 500,000 gallon tank (included in the improvement project), everyone will have water pressure.” This was in answer to Vibbert’s question as to whether the Duvall Valley lines would reach the Bald Rock area where pressure has been a major concern.
Guffey explained that a line to the storage tank was to be tied in at Beaty Creek and should get water to that area in Bald Rock once the system is in service.
Councilman Reed Sloan also suggested that the city find a way to get better notification to county residents as to when low pressure problems may exist.
Councilman James Bray also thanked water department employees for their work over Labor Day weekend in finding and repairing water leaks in the city.
Although a Monarch Engineer was unable to attend last week’s meeting, a project update was given.
The contractor for the Duvall Valley project has indicated that they will begin construction the week of September 18.
Mayor Lawson has also announced that a ground breaking for that project will be held on Tuesday, October 3, at 1 p.m. with the location of the event to be announced later.
An update was also given on the water plant improvement projects, with several items being completed and overall completion expected by early November of this year. It was also speculated the improvements to the plant would save about 25 percent of electric costs at the plant, once complete.