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Gainesville reconsiders water payment penalties
Topic will be reviewed at a later date
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If a business tenant skips out on paying its city water bill in Gainesville, the landlord is ultimately responsible for paying the bill.

If they don't, water gets shut off.

That's according to a long-standing Gainesville city code that applies to nonresidential, multi-family and commercial properties.

The city is re-evaluating that arrangement after Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall reported that process was getting increasingly difficult given increases in foreclosures and the difficulties in tracking down property owners.

In reality, he said at a City Council work session on Thursday, the water bill sometimes gets passed to a new tenant trying to rent the space or a new property owner who didn't own the space when the bill occurred.

Mayor Ruth Bruner questioned the equity of that rule.

"I don't think it's fair for a new tenant to come in and pay for a water bill they didn't use," she said.

The process that's designed to give late bill-payers a reasonable amount of time to reimburse the city, ends up making efforts to recoup costs burdensome for those who never took a drop from the water faucet.

When a customer skips a water bill payment, the city typically waits several weeks before sending a notice to the customer.

If that customer is a business that's already closed, it could be too late for the city or the property owner to force payment, Randall said.

Furthermore, there have been some cases, Randall told the City Council, in which property switched owners before water billing disputes were settled.

Currently, about 30 such commercial accounts have gone to the city's collection service with each outstanding bill averaging about $425.

Randall asked for the council to weigh in since demanding customers to pay for someone else's bill can be a difficult task.

"We need to all have a strong backbone or we need to change our process," he said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Danny Dunagan suggested updating the water service application process to make it easier to pinpoint property owner and requiring deposits even for long-standing customers.

Councilman George Wangemann nodded at the suggestion. "Sometimes you want to get it on the front end," he said.

Council members agreed to revisit the topic at a later date.


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