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Belated utility fees bewilder residents
by Gary Kent
Jun 17, 2013 | 1658 views | 0 0 comments | 63 63 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BEEVILLE — City Hall is hearing some complaints about all the added-on fees residents are seeing on their monthly utility bills.

One woman recently drew question marks about a park fee, a fire fee and a waste administration fee she found on her utility bill.

She said she should have the right to delete the total of those fees, $4.50, from her bill.

“I’m not going to pay a bill if I don’t know what it’s for,” the woman said. “I’m refusing to pay that portion.”

Another resident had the same questions.

“Park fee, $1,” the man asked. “A fire fee, $1.”

“They reduced the number of trash pickups from twice a week to once a week and raised the fees,” the southside resident said.

That resident complained that $327.42 already is going to the city every year in his property taxes. “For what?” he asked. “I feel like I’m being taxed twice!”

“I just think that the fire fee, the park fee and the waste administration fee is something I’ve already paid,” he said.

“I just want to know what I’m paying and if I’m paying more than once,” the resident complained.

“I would like to know what authority they have,” the woman who is refusing to pay the unexplained portion of her bill said.

“I’ve paid my water bill. They can’t cut me off,” she said.

The woman said she called City Hall to find out about the new charges and the employees at the front desk where the utility bills are collected said they knew nothing about the new charges.

“This is my third bill,” she said. She also said that a call to the city manager did not help.

Deborah Ballí, city manager, was in a meeting when she asked to speak to her.

Ballí provided some answers this week. She said the City Council approved the new fees last October during its budget review procedure.

The fees were supposed to take effect in January but the city had some problems implementing them in its computer system. Ballí said the city began charging them in March. It is possible that some residents forgot that the new fees were coming.

The park fee is designed to create a pool of funds that the city can use to provide additional amenities in some of the neighborhood parks. She said residents who use the smaller parks in the city have asked for improvements like volleyball courts and playground equipment.

Creating a fee and a dedicated account for those projects will allow the city to provide those amenities as the funds are accumulated.

The fire fee is similar to the park fee, only that fund will be used to replace deteriorating equipment that the Beeville Volunteer Fire Department needs.

Ballí said an example would be the air bags that local firefighters use to lift heavy objects off victims in accidents and fires.

The special bags can be inflated with air compressors installed on some of the BVFD’s vehicles. They can lift entire walls that may have collapsed during fires.

The bags the department has used for years simply gave out, Ballí said.

The waste administration fee is necessary for the city to pay the costs of preparing, mailing and collecting utility bills.

“The city is only a pass through entity for Republic Services,” Ballí said. That is the Corpus Christi company that collects and disposes of solid wastes here.

“The city makes very little money off that,” Ballí said. The administrative fee will allow the city not only to recoup its costs, but it will help the city to pay the costs of implementing a new billing system.

Ballí said the city will quit using the small card bills it currently uses and will go to a full-size statement. That means the city will need to invest in some additional equipment to print and fold the statements.

Money raised from the waste management fee will help pay those costs.

Also, not everyone is seeing an increase in the monthly bill from the city.

The base rates for water and sewer service have been reduced to offset the new fees for senior citizens. In most cases, utility customers over the age of 65 have experienced a reduction in their monthly utility bills.

Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.
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