VERIFY: $250,000 in uncollected storm water fees?

VERIFY: $250K in uncollected stormwater fees?

We want to verify what political hopefuls are telling you, the voters, this election cycle.

During Tuesday night's Warner Robins Council candidate forum, Post One candidate Jim Taylor said something about storm water billing.

“If we just went and start collecting on the storm water fees that are owed us that's about $250,000 a year that haven't been collected for the last number of years,” Taylor said during the forum.

Taylor's answer came after a question about potential property tax increases.

Taylor said the city should focus on using existing funds efficiently and actually collecting the funds they're supposed to.

Jacob Reynolds tried to verify if that quarter of a million-dollar number is accurate and what the City is doing to fix it.

Sam Satterfield has owned his Warner Robins jewelry business and the property it sits on for 12 years. Every month, the same bill from the city comes to his building.

“We normally get trash, sanitation, storm water, and sewage,” Satterfield said in his showroom.

His total bill is around $125, and the storm water portion is roughly $30.

But even though he pays every month, he's not quite sure what it does.

“Actually I don't, now that you mention it, ask me about it, we are in a parking lot facility and there is a storm drain at the end of our plaza here so I'm assuming it has to do with that,” Satterfield guessed.

He's right. The storm water department at Warner Robins Public Works manages runoff from properties and homes that can't be absorbed into the ground and maintains the city drainage system.

In 2016, the City billed $2,523,000 in storm water fees. In 2017, that number is $2,531,000 (before audit), according to City Clerk Bill Harte.

But at Tuesday night's city council candidate forum, Jim Taylor says they're not bringing in what they could.

But Harte says that number cannot be verified. Harte says they realized they may not have billed for all the revenue they could have over the last 10 years, but have not estimated how much they lost.

Harte says the problem started because renters or leasers could close utility accounts when they closed shop or moved. Those closures stopped storm water billing as well, so some vacant properties were not getting billed.

Warner Robins is now several months into changing the billing software, so storm water billing goes directly to permanent property owners instead of the name listed on utility accounts.

So we verified Warner Robins has not collected some storm water fees it could have, but says it cannot verify how much.

The original storm water ordinance was implemented in 2007 after being passed in 2006, according to Harte.

Harte says it's almost impossible to get exact figure for the last ten years.

They'd have to examine every property, match tax records with utility accounts, find the ones that don’t match, and then try to figure out whether it was vacant at any point over those ten years.

Instead, Harte says that's why they're changing the billing software. He also added he does not have plans to try and back-bill property owners for missed payments.

We'll continue to verify information given to you from candidates this election cycle. Next week Warner Robins will host its mayoral candidate forum at 6:00p.m. on Tuesday, which will be streamed live on 13wmaz.com. 

VERIFY SOURCES:

Bill Harte, City Clerk of Warner Robins 

Krag Woodyard, Warner Robins Public Works 

Warner Robins Public Works Department

© 2017 WMAZ-TV


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