The Carrabelle city commission has refused to lower a water bill for a River Road landlord who claims she didn’t to have the water turned on at the property.
On April 4, Judy Hall asked the commissioners to forgive a $1,200 water bill for a house belonging to her daughter, Tara Norrick .
Hall said Norrick purchased the house at 322 River Road near Hall’s own home and eventually plans to retire to Carrabelle. In the interim, Norrick is using the house as a rental property.
In 2009, when the first tenant was unable to afford the water deposit, Norrick paid it, according to Carrabelle city staff, who said the tenant later had the water shut off when she vacated the house.
At some point between 2010 and 2012, somebody turned the water back on without setting up an account with the city, according to City Clerk Keisha Smith.
In June 2012, during a routine audit, the Carrabelle Water and Sewer department discovered that the water at the property had been turned on illegally. The water to the house then was turned off by the city, and Norrick called the city offices the next day, irate, and demanded the bill be sent to her, said Smith, who told commissioners Norrick said. “Do not bill my tenants for that water.”
The city sent Norrick a bill for $1,231 which she did not immediately pay.
According to Hall, in January 2013, Norrick wanted to clean the house and requested the water be turned on. Renee Brannan, the city’s water clerk, told her she would have to pay $600 of the bill and could appeal the rest of the bill in order to have water and sewer service restored.
Smith said Norrick was not charged a late fee and was only billed for the water actually used.
At last week’s meeting, Hall argued that her daughter should not be responsible for the illegally used water because she did not request the water at 322 River Road be turned on, but commissioners disagreed.
Mayor Curley Messer told Hall the city was not in the business of tracking down tenants who owe landlords money.
City Attorney Dan Hartman agreed that the owner of the property was responsible for water used by a tenant.
Smith said that, because several tenants had occupied the house over the period when water was stolen, the city had no way to determine which tenant should be billed.
Commissioner Brenda LaPaz, who is charged with overseeing the water and sewer department said, “You literally have to catch the person in the act (of stealing service) to bring charges.”
Commissioner Charlotte Schneider said, “If I can’t adjust water bills for senior citizens on fixed incomes, I’m not going to adjust for this.”
The board voted unanimously to charge Norrick the full amount and instructed Brannan to arrange for payment of the balance over time if necessary.
Smith said, “I would suggest to her, if she rents the house, to call and verify the utilities have been set up and that they have been paid when tenant leaves before returning the deposit.”