Port St. Joe commissioners on Tuesday engaged in a testy discussion about a policy to waive utility fees in certain circumstances.
At the last meeting commissioners tabled a request to adjust or waive a bill from a resident. The bill was well outside the customer’s normal usage and was, he said, the result of a leak he did not cause or was aware of.
Commissioners tabled the request to adjust the bill to establish a policy to provide staff with parameters for dealing with contested bills.
City manager Jim Anderson said staff makes adjustments each month, the numbering fluctuating month by month and season by season, but which can run as high as 100 in a given month.
City attorney Tom Gibson said that the current policy for such adjustments is in line with surrounding municipalities.
The draft policy put before commissioners during their regular bi-monthly meeting Tuesday, crafted with input from Anderson, Gibson and the city’s accounting firm, Roberson and Associates, was not what Commissioner William Thursbay said he was looking for, moving immediately to adjust the bill in question.
Thursbay said the prior six months prior to the month in question – resulting in a bill of more than $4,000 for water and sewer combined on a residential property – should be averaged and that number represent the customer’s bill for that contested month.
His motion was quickly seconded by Commissioner Phil McCroan and Commissioner Bo Patterson expressed support, but Mayor Mel Magidson advised caution.
“We don’t need to be dealing with water bill adjustments every meeting,” he said.
He said commissioners were not requiring any payment on the bill in question until a policy was in place and said commissioners were elected to set the standards for staff to follow.
Thursbay angrily responded, “I am tired of it.”
He said he sat in his chair on the podium each week, made motions and watched as 15-20 minutes went by while the issue was debated, in particular by Magidson.
“It takes an act of God to make you move,” he said.
Gibson stepped in at Magidson’s request after Magidson responded to Thursbay to “Now, settle down a minute.”
Gibson said once commissioners act that action is policy.
“You’ve created the policy, you have set the precedent,” Gibson said. “From a legal standpoint you need to set the policy and then deal with this (individual bill).
“If you give this man a break tonight you set the policy. This man does not have to do anything until we set the policy.”
Michael McKenzie with Roberson and Associates said the draft policy was intended to provide fairness to all consumers of the water while being mindful that the Enterprise fund tied to utilities must balance.
If, through their action, commissioners were taking revenue out those dollars had to be replaced by cutting expenditures.
Under the draft policy the estimate was the city would lose roughly $100,000 a year.
“We would have to increase rates again, which is not something we need to do,” said Commissioner Rex Buzzett.
McKenzie also echoed concerns about “setting a precedent.”
“If you do an adjustment for one person what do you do about other people?” Anderson said, voicing the opinion of staff. “We just want to treat everyone fair.”
Gibson said input from commissioners on such a draft policy was welcome and needed, noting they had the policy in hand by the end of last week.’
An agitated Thursbay withdrew his motion after trying to amend it to say a bill eight times normal for the address should be the threshold for adjusting utility bills.
“I am tired of fighting,” Thursbay said. “I don’t get paid enough to fight like this. I am fighting for everyone in this city.”
Thursbay said he would have to go tell the customer seeking the bill adjustment that he failed in getting him help.
Commissioners started again on the bid process for relocation of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse into the city by rejecting the original bids and choosing to move forward with a new process.
The project will now be bid in two segments; one to move the lighthouse tower and the other to move the ancillary buildings: two keepers’ quarters and the oil house.
After consulting with an individual whose company assisted on the saving of the St. George Island Lighthouse, Magidson said it was clear that contractors were “shooting in the dark” about the process and cost of moving the lighthouse.
Eight contractors attended a pre-bid conference; the city received two bids.
Commissioners approved contracting on a sole source basis with a Florida-based expert to remove the lens from the lighthouse, which is the first step to relocation.
The lens belongs to the U.S. Coast Guard. It must either be returned to the Coast Guard or put on display for the public under climate-controlled conditions.
The lens must also be handled by an expert “lampist”, Magidson said, of which there is only one in Florida.
The $16,000-plus cost will come out from the state appropriation the city received for the relocation.