Tuesday, January 24, 2017

City Commission OKs water bill relief for high bills caused by Hurricane Matthew

The City badly mishandled the high water bills, not communicating with people receiving large bills due to damage they did not cause. While Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline apologized, there was the usual arrogance from City staff.
God forgive them for their insolence and disrespect for We, the People.

Posted January 24, 2017 05:52 am - Updated January 24, 2017 06:10 am
By SHELDON GARDNER sheldon.gardner@staugustine.com
St. Augustine Commission approves relief for customers with high water bills from hurricane

The city of St. Augustine plans to provide relief to water customers who had high bills because of Hurricane Matthew.

The City Commission unanimously voted Monday night to give Mark Litzinger, financial services director, the temporary authority to adjust water bills that are high because of hurricane damage.

People who believe a leak or other hurricane-related issued increased their bills can contact the financial services department and ask for relief, Litzinger said.

The relief will be available through the end of March, and people will have to call the city’s Financial Services Department to seek help, he said. The city won’t automatically adjust bills.

If approved, the city can provide a new bill based on a 12-month average of usage, or if someone has already paid, the city can provide a refund for what’s been overpaid, Litzinger said.

Several homes and businesses had broken water lines or leaks related to the storm damage, Litzinger said.

While city code allows for administrative credits for sewer charges for things like a leak or a broken line, the policy had not been available for water because once it goes through the meter it’s considered used and owed by the account holder, he said.

The city has seen water bills double because of hurricane damage, or reach thousands of dollars, Litzinger said.

All commissioners supported the move.

“I apologize to those people who have had a lot of anxiety. … If they’ve had sleepless nights over $5,000 water bills. I apologize to you. … We’re here to fix it tonight,” Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline said.

The vote on Monday brought hope to Rachel Nelson, a Flagler College student. She said Hurricane Matthew damage left her with at least a couple thousand dollars in water bills.

“It’s just a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Nelson said.

In other business

Officials wrapped up the first phase of the city’s mobility project and rolled out the next steps on Monday.

Commissioners overall supported the efforts of Littlejohn Engineering Associates to produce a guiding document for the project. Most commissioners supported the plan for the future, overall. But they asked for more details to be shared, saying people are ready for more specifics on what projects are being done and what projects are planned.

Regan said the next steps for mobility will be overseen by a management team and will include regular meetings and interaction with the public. The team will include city staff, business representatives and volunteers.

Regan plans to use consultant Littlejohn Engineering Associates as needed.

The city is focused on broader goals, such as improving traffic flow downtown. Projects to accomplish those goals are going to be prioritized with the community over a few months, Regan said.

One of the team’s volunteers, Steve Carter, is expected to be the project manager. Carter was also on the task force that guided the first phase of mobility, and he volunteered to help shape the plan for moving forward, Regan said. His background includes working with complex projects, Regan said previously.

Vice Mayor Todd Neville questioned having an unpaid person as program manager, and also using a consultant only on an as-needed basis. Though he supported Carter, he said mobility is the number one initiative and questioned how the city could hold a volunteer accountable.

“This is not a small, neighborhood project. … It has me very concerned,” Neville said.

Commissioner Leanna Freeman asked if a project manager position would be created. Regan said it isn’t clear.

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