New office policies concerning Milton's utilities billing will go into effect in January. Milton city commissioners approved the measure 3-1 at their meeting Thursday.

Utilities customers will only be allowed one returned check per year when paying utilities bills. After the second returned check, customers will be required to pay with cash or money order. Emergencies - such as the loss of a job or a health problem - that cause hardships for billing will be dealt with case-by-case. No action will be taken until a commissioner can be contacted.

Another change affects seasonal customers and campers. Instead of a $50 reconnect fee when returning to the city's service, a $25 service fee will be charged.

Some of the new policies include reinforcing policies used in the past. For customers unable to pay their utilities bill in full, a payment arrangement can be made if the customer contacts Milton City Hall, as in the past. The 11th day of the month will remain the last day for customers to pay their bill without disconnection.

Mayor Denny Jackson said the commission will revisit the policy changes in July 2013 to see if the policies help the city collect past-due billings.

"It's one of those things we've got to stay on top of," Jackson said.

Commissioner Jerry Harmon asked that the office staff tell customers who make partial payments about the upcoming changes. Paper notices are too often thrown away or dismissed when included in bills, he said.

"I don't like surprises," Harmon said. "I want (customers) advised ahead of time."

Commissioner Tom Mahoney voted against the utilities policies.

"I think you know I don't agree with this from previous meetings," Mahoney said before the vote. "I think we're baby-sitting too many people."

In other business:

• The City Commission heard the first reading of a smoking ban at city-owned buildings. No one will be allowed to smoke in buildings or within 10 feet of the building's front door. No-smoking signs will be posted, and people will be issued a warning if caught disregarding the ban. A $50 fine will be used to enforce the ban after the warning.

• Milton Fire Chief Jason Long said the number of illegal burns in the area have increased recently.

"We see what an illegal burn can do," he said, noting a 40-acre field fire in September that could have caused major damage to nearby homes if winds or drought conditions would have been present.

Long reminded the commission that residents cannot burn trash in barrels or on their property.

"People know it, but they just try to get away with it," he said.

Long said he has been issuing a warning when people are caught burning illegally on their property. Homeowners will be charged for a fire and rescue run on the second incident, he said.

He also told commissioners this will be a record year for the department. Milton Fire and Rescue responded to 192 calls as of Thursday. The previous record was 125 calls.

• Utilities Field Coordinator Mark Bates gave reports that everything seemed to be running smoothly, except for an accident that caused the Butler lift station to be out of service for a while. The station's control panel was damaged after a single-vehicle accident Thursday morning, but the station was back in service after repairs.

• City Clerk Pam Joyce told commissioners about a customer who asked for a $25 utility service fee to be returned. The customer had requested that water services to a rental home be turned on so the home could be cleaned. The customer asked for a refund because they had been in good standing with the city throughout the years.

"It's the cost of doing business," Commissioner Lynn Comeaux said.

Joyce said all new homeowners and rental property owners had been charged the service fee when turning on water services since January this year.

"A service was rendered," city attorney Genon Hensley said.

Commissioners agreed that the fee should be paid, and that no refund should be issued.

"You can't bend (the rules)," Jackson said.

Joyce also told commissioners that the city's auditor is expected to give a report at the next commission meeting.