The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Bessemer council acts on $10,000 water bill from 2017


January 9, 2019

P.J. Glisson/Daily Globe

a house at 109 W. Sellar Sreet in Bessemer, seen here Tuesday, was the site of a 2017 catastrophe that resulted in a water bill exceeding $10,000, including late fees. A Wisconsin family owns the property.


Bessemer - The Bessemer city council voted Monday to take limited action on a request by a property owner asking forgiveness for a 2017 water bill that exceeded $10,000, including late fees, for a billing period of two months.

The request was made by Morgan R. Butler IV and the Butler family, regarding a house at 109 W. Sellar St.

Locals and tourists who have rented the house through the years have referred to the structure as "the abbey" or "the church," owing to its early history as a religious building.

In terms of his request, Butler told the council, "I don't have this kind of money. If you can give me anything right now, it would be a bigger incentive to overcome this." Beyond the cost of the water bill, he estimated remediation of the damage, which occurred from a pipe burst, in the "tens of thousands of dollars."

His father, Morgan R. Butler, III, who also attended the meeting, said there was no insurance to help with the cost.

In a letter dated Jan. 2, Butler, IV wrote, "The Butler family has owned the Abbey on Sellar Street since the fall of 1969, and has maintained a water account throughout this time. Water bills usually range from base fees only up to $300 or so for a busy period."

He explained that a youth hockey team rented the house from September, 2016 through March, 2017 as a lodging facility for out-of-town team members who left the water "on" when they exited the house at the end of February, 2017.

Butler wrote that his family members in lower Wisconsin were unable to check the property until mid-April of that year. Meanwhile, he added, "Tenants returned to pick up more of their personal property at the lodge on April 8, 2017, and found the finished basement flooded and water pouring from a burst pipe. They shut off the water at the in-building main."

Nevertheless, he said about 500,000 gallons registered on the related water bill, and the house's gas bill also rose because of a gas water heater.

"The hockey team has no money and denies any responsibility, leaving the Butler family with a bill bigger than our combined bill for 45 years of public lodging," states the letter.

The Butlers specifically asked whether late fees could be dismissed and whether they could at least engage in a payment plan for the billing amount. Under the recommendation of mayor Adam Zak, the city's motion included the request that city manager Charly Loper check into the feasibility of waiving late fees and setting up a payment plan.

Loper said she will do so and will return to the council with a recommendation.

The council also:

-Upon the recommendation of Zak, voted to appoint Kara Bjorkquist and Bridget O'Sullivan to the Downtown Development Authority. Tracey Maskewit also had applied, but only two positions were available.

-Voted to deny a variance request from Greg Vinci regarding a Section 9 lot that he wished to sell to persons interested in erecting a "stick-built cabin" there. Loper said the lot's 132-foot width did not fulfill the zoning minimum of 150 feet. Judge Mike Pope, who owns nearby property, also spoke against the request. Zak abstained from voting on the grounds of personal interest in a neighboring property.

-Voted to accept and place on file a financial audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018.

-Under the recommendation of Zak and council member Linda Nelson, voted to install signage next summer in relation to downtown apartment parking and to allow Loper to address any related issues as needed.


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