02/25/04 — Goldsboro City Council on retreat

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Goldsboro City Council on retreat

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 25, 2004 2:00 PM

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH -- The Goldsboro City Council decided Tuesday on a fee schedule for 169 sewer customers that received service for as long as 12 years at no charge.

The city is prepared now to estimate what those bills would have been for the past three to five years and seek repayment over a two-year period.

The board also decided not to change its policy about extending sewer lines outside city limits, despite a request from a church that needs service.

The City Council began its annual retreat Tuesday in Wrightsville Beach. All council members attended, but Councilman Delmus Bridgers did not return to the afternoon sessions.

Last fall, the city discovered that some residences and businesses had been receiving sewer service for as long as 12 years without being billed. These customers were all in areas that had been annexed by Goldsboro.

The omissions were made for various reasons, City Manager Richard Slozak said. Some city tellers made the mistake of not establishing account numbers for new sewer customers.

Some people prepaid for their sewer connections to save money, but when the taps were made, sewer accounts weren't set up, he said. Some taps were made by developers and never entered in the city logs. And a few people made illegal connections.

At least one man repeatedly tried to tell city employees that he was receiving free service, but city employees did not understand the depth of the problem, Slozak said.

Slozak called the high number of nonpaying customers "an embarrassment." His only explanation is that the city was adding a lot of utility customer during periods of annexation and mistakes happened.

The city has begun a series of checks to ensure that new utility customers are assigned accounts.

City officials agreed that the customers should now be asked to pay for that past service. Tuesday's discussion was about how much and when.

Slozak recommended that the city charge all 169 customers a percentage of their past water bills since 2001. The city's policy has been that it will only repay its overcharges over a three-year period.

"You mean that you can charge me too much for 12 years and only pay me back for the last three," Councilman Chuck Allen said. "That's not right."

Councilman Bob Waller did not want to write off all those charges. "If you only go back three years, that's a heck of a deal for some people," he said.

But Councilman Bill Goodman questioned how accurate the city's older records would be. The city computerized its billing in 1999. "You'll have errors if you go too far back," he said.

The City Council agreed to split the customers into two groups. Those who had apparently been receiving services for six years or less will be asked to repay estimated bills for three years; those with seven years or more will repay estimated bills for five years. All customers will be allowed two years to make repayment.

The city expects to reap between $100,000 and $131,000. The biggest charge will be to The Pines retirement home, which will owe around $35,000.

Sewer policy

Also during the retreat, the City Council reviewed its policy for extending sewer lines outside city limits but decided not to make any changes.

The city does not offer service more than a mile outside its limits -- the area known as its extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ. This area also falls under city zoning regulations.

Stoney Creek Church has asked for service, but it's about 1.75 miles outside Goldsboro. Running sewer lines that far can cause problems, Slozak said. Lines that aren't used enough can become septic and cause odor problems. Also, the sewage would have to be pumped to the main pipe.

Councilmen were cautious about making an exception for the church.

"Let's leave (the policy) like it is," Charles Williams said. "We need to be consistent."

The retreat continued today.