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City returns water to apartments
Gives property owner till Jan. 2 to settle $16,000 bill
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McMinnville officials have temporarily turned the water back on at Cotten Apartments.
Members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously agreed Tuesday night to allow the water to be restored until Jan. 2, 2015. On that date it will be turned back off, unless the owner of the apartment complex, Evelyn Cotten, takes action to rectify the non-payment situation.
The decision was made after Vice Mayor Ben Newman expressed compassion for the plight of residents living at Cotten Apartments who were without water.
“It has been brought to my attention there are some apartments, and I don’t know how many apartments there are in this building, but water has been shut off due to non-payment. It’s my understanding it’s one tap going into multiple apartments. There are a substantial amount of people with children living in these apartments.”
Newman says he has reviewed a lease agreement Cotten Apartments uses for its residents and the rental fee is supposed to cover utilities.
“I have a lease here that I’ve looked through,” said Newman. “I think all the leases are the same. These people pay rent and the water and electricity is supposed to be provided for them. They don’t have their own taps. The owner of Cotten Apartments is supposed to be paying the bill, but she is not. There are a lot of people hurt by this.”
According to city administrator Bill Brock, the bill is approximately 90 days overdue and the amount owed is $16,000. 
When asked if any of the tenants have taken legal action against Mrs. Cotten, Newman said he is unaware of any lawsuits filed. However, that could change in the coming days.
Newman both the renters and the city have a cause of action, which is a law term meaning a set of facts exists that is sufficient to justify a lawsuit, against her.
“The water just got cut off,” said Newman. “They don’t get notices, because they don’t have a contract with the city to provide this service. The contract they have is a lease between themselves and the owner of the complex. She’s the one not paying. These people have been cut off, and they do have a cause of action against her. The city would have a cause of action against her, too, to recover the past due amount.”
Newman says he understands some people living there do not have the financial ability to immediately move and he would like to at least give them a little more time to make arrangements.
“I’m worried about these folks who do not have water and have children. They are coming up on Christmas,” said Newman. “In order to leave, they have to put down a deposit to get new utilities somewhere else, possibly, a deposit for rent somewhere else, and then, pay their rent somewhere else. It’s not their fault she’s not paying for water services. I just want to get these people some relief. Let’s turn it on for 30 days and charge her, because she’s liable for it. Then, that would give them time to decide if they want to move out, if they can. If not, at least they will know their water is going to be suspended. I think that’s the decent thing to do.”
This is not the first time an apartment complex owner has failed to pay their water bill and renters have suffered the consequences, says city attorney Tim Pirtle.
“We experienced a similar problem with an unpaid water bill at an apartment complex. I think it was the first year we were representing the city,” said Pirtle. “That service was discontinued for a very short period of time and the owner came in and made arrangements. We did not get immediate payment, but we did reach a payment plan that was satisfactory to Mr. Rutherford, city administrator at the time, and we restored the service. We did accept and receive deferred payments in installments.”
When questioned, Brock says Mrs. Cotten has not contacted the city to arrange a payment plan.
“She has not offered to do that,” said Brock. “She came in today and picked up a printout of what she owed. Normally, she does not accept our calls or anyone’s calls. It’s a very difficult situation dealing with her. I don’t know what the answer is. This has been on my mind all weekend with these people out of water and the school system is involved and parents are concerned about kids being pulled away because of the unsanitary conditions.”
Alderman Mike Neal made a motion to restore water to the apartments until Jan. 2. The measure was passed unanimously by Mayor Jimmy Haley, Newman and Aldermen Neal, Jimmy Bonner, Ryle Chastain, Everett Brock, and Steve Harvey.
Pirtle was asked to contact Cotten and try to come to a payment agreement that would prevent service from being discontinued Jan. 2.
On Wednesday, Brock was contacted about an accusation the city’s release of water from a 1-million-gallon storage tank caused flooding and a building at Cotten Apartments to shift. This shift allegedly caused a water pipe to burst, leading to the high water bill.
 “We did flush out the tank, but that has nothing to do with this situation,” said Brock. “We did flush out the tank and we did flood out an apartment building of hers. Our insurance settled with her. She was given a check and signed off on the complaint. Now, she is saying their water line was broken. She never mentioned that before. She has never come up here and filed a complaint or asked for an adjustment. We are unaware of a water line break, if there was one. That’s what she is telling her tenants, but she isn’t telling us that. If she presented us with proof of a water line break, we would adjust her bill. She has not done that.”
Water was restored to the apartment complex Wednesday morning.