Adam Snyder is the first to tell you he is a self-made businessman.
“I started this from the ground up on my own,” he says in the hallway of Oak Harbor village hall about his rental business during a recent spring evening. “Nobody helped me.”
He refers to his climb to buy rental properties, accumulating close to 100 over the years in and around the village. He keeps a watchful eye on expenses and questions those that don’t add up.
For more than three months at village council meetings he’s protested a 2005 utility bill connected to a property he bought this year on Ottawa Street. He insists the $469 electric bill is not his responsibility since the village shirked at least three previous chances to collect the cash from the debtors.
But the village still says no payment, no electrical meter.
One of his former renters, Kyle Hollis, doesn’t see it so clearly. The registered nurse thinks Snyder has to swallow the “cost of doing business” the same way he deals with his renters.
Her experience with Snyder years ago went without a hitch. But she maintains her daughter’s recent experience with Snyder wasn’t so amicable. She claims her daughter cleaned rugs, left her property in presentable condition and he still kept her deposit for unjustified reasons.
In addition, she says his intimidating persona, hot-headed manner, continual conflicts with village utility officials and unreasonable ways have left other tenants and neighbors scratching their heads at his odd behavior.
But it comes down to one thing for Hollis: “He’s a slumlord. You get what you pay for. He’s not a fair landlord… He needs to take all that money he has kept from people’s deposits and pay that bill.”
Snyder realizes as a landlord he’s going to take flak. He wouldn’t discuss Hollis’ daughter’s case specifically but said he knows there are going to be disputes.
Yet, he will not let go of a pending utility dispute with the village because, he said, he is not only fighting for himself but for other property owners who are getting a bad rap from poorly designed utility regulations.
A 1950s ordinance ties payment of uncollected utility bills to the property owner not the user, Mayor Bill Eberle has reminded others repeatedly. Changes made by village council three years ago tightened procedures for collections from users – but not before nearly $80,000 in debt mounted for utility bills racked up dating back to 2001.
At council’s late May meeting, Snyder defended the owner of a new business who recently had to pay someone else’s old bill in order to get an electrical meter for service.
“Yea, she paid. She didn’t want to,” Snyder insisted.
His stubbornness on the issue boils down to principle, he said. He bought a three-unit house this year but can’t get electrical service because of the $469 bill dating back to 2005. The former owner long held the property before foreclosure set in and other tenants actually occupied the building and used village services in the last few years, Village Administrator Randy Genzman acknowledged.
Nine years was plenty of time for the village to collect on its old bill before going after him, Snyder contends. The village, he said, failed because it didn’t confront the former owner, didn’t file a lien for unpaid bills and allowed others to use the services on the same property while the outstanding bill remained.
Snyder said he did a title search before the purchase but the bill did not show up because no lien existed.
Council members have received some complaints from other residents who have paid through the years. The circumstances of whether those bills were disclosed at sale were not known.
Council members say they worry about other rebates should they dismiss Snyder’s bill. Still, council members concede their collection regulations are antiquated and need to be addressed.
And, Councilman Jim Seaman admitted during one of the lengthy debates, “Adam is getting a bad rap. We should have taken care of this years ago with three other people.”
Snyder has also disputed other bills connected to his properties and took the village to court. The village won. As a result, he paid several thousand in back bills for properties dating back to 2012 and all of his renters are currently paid up. If they fall behind, he gets a notice and makes sure they address the bill immediately, he has told council several times.
The situation has pushed village council to review its outstanding utility bills.
The village utility department provided Genzman an outline of the debts of nearly $77,000 for old sewer and electrical bills, which Genzman gave to council.
On June 2, council considered forgiving some $5,500 debts tied to bankruptcies, deaths and bills under $50.
The other $71,000 would be written off the books for the purpose of streamlining village software. Genzman noted that meant the village would still go after the people who accumulated that debt should they return to the village or the village hired a firm to track them down.
The administrator also pointed out that path could technically go against the ordinance since the village would hold the user responsible instead of the property owner.
But Councilman Jon Fickert said he didn’t see how the write-offs helped anything except for “cleaning up” the tax administrator’s computer software.
Hiring a firm to go after the debtors would cost money and what was the prospective return – maybe 10 percent after years of trying, he asked. “I would be surprised if you would get 2 percent.”
Councilwoman Jackie Macko said she still didn’t understand how the debt had gotten so out of hand.
Snyder answered by saying the utility bills mounted because the village collection department had allowed people to pay partial amounts on their bill each month. Their service continued as the bills racked up and then the renters took off without paying the outstanding bills. No one disputed his answer.
“This was a thing of your making,” Snyder said.
Fickert noted that the ordinance change helped squelch mounting bills in the future but council has never seriously addressed collecting those old bills through the years.
Genzman explained that the changes made in 2012 eliminated the build up by pulling meters when bills exceeded the deposit amount in escrow.
Resident Dennis Schiets said council should heed an old Rolex watch commercial. “Take your licking and keep on ticking.”
He told them to forgive those debts permanently and move on – quit wasting time rehashing the issue at every meeting and don’t put any more money into trying to collect.
This money is long gone, Schiets insisted. Put it aside and move on to important business affecting the village now, he said.
Snyder agreed. He said the village paid for a $6 million sewer project and that it has spent millions to fix and still haven’t solved the problem permanently.
He added the village coughed up an extra $100,000 to finish drilling across the river for an electrical project when contractors ran into bedrock. But yet they could not let go of this $469 debt because it was him, Snyder said.
Council asked Genzman to find out the cost for a collection agency and what the projected revenue might be. That information may determine whether the village should attack the debts aggressively or to write them all off.