Mayor Valentine to residents over utility bills: 'Quit complaining and start becoming part of the community'

Greg Williams
Wellington Daily News
Wellington water tower

Over the past month, Wellington residents have expressed anger and frustration regarding their utility bills.

Many people haven't received their bills yet, but there are a few who have. Those who received their bills have noticed their bills are going up.

On a Facebook post on Sumner County Rants and Raves, residents are claiming the cost of electricity has gone up a bit, doubled, or tripled compared to their last utility bill. 

Those who haven't received their bills have said it's been between 38 to 42 days since they last received them. 

The City has mentioned during the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7, those utility bills that are 42 days late are paying a month a half of bills compared to the normal utility bill, which is a month (30/31 days).

Amie Brown of Wellington said she's been a homeowner for three years and has seen her bill near $300 twice before her last payment. Once was when the toilet water was running non-stop for three weeks, then the second time was last year due to COVID-19.

"This year my bill has an extra nine days on it and is now $444," said Brown. "I love Wellington, but these bills are making it hard to want to stay here. It's kind of ridiculous." 

Wellington Mayor Jim Valentine vents about residents utility complaints during a City Council meeting

Following all the complaints from Wellington residents, Mayor Jim Valentine addressed the issue at the City Council meeting. At the 35-minute mark, Mayor Valentine said:

"It's very obvious to me that nobody looked at their electric bill. I saw some electric bills and, yeah, they were high. But when you look at it, they weren't breaking them down. They are looking at the total bill. They aren't looking at the water, the wastewater, and trash."

"You people out there have been bashing us. We aren't out to take anybody for a ride, and this council will not stoop to that level of intelligence that some of you people put on Facebook. You need to understand what is going on here. What you have in this country and in this City - these are privileges. They're not your right. They become your privileges because of what people have done for this country. You look at these people down in Louisana; they have no toilets, have no water, and have no electricity. And you put this kind of stuff on Facebook? I am so ashamed of some of you. I can't believe you would do something like this - that you would stoop this low."

"We don't have it nearly as rough compared to the other cities around us. Take a look at Winfield. The electric alone was over $1,000... But, let's watch what we say before you put this stuff out to the public. We don't need this. This is a good community and we have a lot of good people here and we are just trying to make things work for everyone. When we had that bad cold weather, it was $2.4 million out of utility funds that we threw towards that. Quit complaining and start becoming part of the community. Let's get some unity here. I'm tired of hearing this negative stuff." . 

Residents on the Winfield, KS, Concerned Citizens Facebook Page have said their utility bills, not just electric, range between $320-$980. 

"We've never paid $1,000 or even close to it for that matter," said Winfield resident Hollie Earls. "We haven't seen double the amount either. We honestly haven't noticed that much of an increase in our bill with our 2,300 sqft home."

Many Wellington residents are still not thrilled with the recent comments from Mayor Valentine.

"My bill was $1,050, which was $500 higher than any other bill in the 23-ish years the house has been built," said Wellington resident Mike Hollman. "I should probably stop there as I don't want to be the one complaining about all my privilege."

In the City Council meeting, Mayor Valentine gives some tips on how people can save on energy, but a few residents have done them and haven't seen results.

"My highest bill since I've lived here was $200," said Wellington resident Halie Ketola. "My bill went from $200 to $600 last month, and now my next bill is $657. I even fixed the problem that was 'supposedly' the issue. Something isn't adding up."

Wellington residents say they had similar high bill issues in 2020

Around the same time last year, Wellington residents were dealing with the same issue.

In 2020, utility bills spiked in the month of August, and the City said they were experiencing a staff shortage and having a hard time conducting readings of the utility meters.

The reason is somewhat the same in 2021.

City Manager Shane Shields released a press statement on Sept. 2 and gave three reasons why billing statements are higher than normal. 

  1. During the billing period, there has been high usage due to the higher temperatures during the period. Higher usage results in a higher cost.

  2. There is a higher number of days included in this billing period. This is due to the delay in obtaining meter readings. That delay is due to staff shortages in the meter reading positions, as was explained in late July. The additional number of days, on average, is approximately ten. The higher number of days in the billing period results in a higher cost.

  3. The higher than normal usage has also contributed to the delay in the process. The billing system generates an alert in instances where the kilowatt usage seems to be abnormally high for the period involved. In those cases, a second reading or reread is taken off the meter. Staff revisits the location to verify the meter reading is correct. That takes additional time to accomplish before billing statements can be distributed.

"My bill from the same month last year was $400 cheaper," said Wellington resident Jessica Heidel. "They say someone is reading the meters every month, but when we have cameras pointing right at that area, no one comes — I find it hard to believe they are telling the truth."

The Wellington Daily News reached out to Shields and he said the City did hire two-meter readers in August. They are currently training them and hope to accomplish a return as soon as possible to the typical billing period.

Greg Williams has been the reporter for the Wellington Daily News and Butler County Times-Gazette since May 2021. You can reach him at GWilliams@gannett.com or on Twitter at @GregWilliams28.