Wednesday, October 31, 2012

City cracks down on AUM and Concord for ripping off residents with water bills!

PCB closes loophole on water charges
Article at: http://tinyurl.com/9okjm69

 Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 19:34 PM.

PANAMA CITY BEACH — The Panama City Beach Council has closed a loophole on an ordinance that allowed apartment complexes to overcharge residents for city utility services.

A city investigation into individual meter readings at Stone Harbor Apartments on Alf Coleman Road showed some residents were billed $9 to $10 per 1,000 gallons of water used, nearly three times the city rate.

The ordinance, which prevents the resale of city water and sewer services by any third party, was amended at the Oct. 11 council meeting, adding language to prohibit landlords from taking utility cost from vacant units or the common areas and distributing it among tenants.

“They weren’t breaking the law, but they weren’t following what we intended the ordinance to do,” Utilities Director Al Shortt said of the complex, which outsources billing to American Utility Management (AUM). Residents “were essentially paying for stuff that should have been absorbed by the community.”
Shortt said the complex, a Concord Management property, was allowing residents to pick up the bills for vacant units and also for the irrigation water in common areas.

The amended ordinance prohibits landlords from charging any more than the city would have charged the tenant, with the exception of an administrative charge not to exceed $3.

“Having the other tenants pay what is the landlord’s obligation, the landlord is making money,” said City Attorney Doug Sale, who provided clarification at the council meeting.

The amendment to the ordinance was prompted after Councilwoman Josie Strange received complaints from residents at Stone Harbor regarding utility bills.

Although the complex runs off one master meter, AUM sets up individual meters at each unit, allowing city officials to determine that many residents were being overcharged for their usage amount.

The city sent a notice of violation and cease-and-desist order to the complex in August, requesting documentation of the actual cost of operating the utility and also information from the third-party bill processor.

Shortt said Stone Harbor residents should see a reduction in their utility bills during the next billing cycle.

“They’re well aware of what they need to do,” Shortt said of AUM. “Now that the ordinance is in place, it should take care of those issues.”