Originally created 12/07/00

County tabulates late utility fees



About 89 percent of the first 17,000 Columbia County stormwater utility bills have been paid.

That means 1,884 bills - roughly $14,330 of the $82,181 billed - are late. But officials don't plan to do anything about those until early next year.

"It's pretty much what I expected," County Engineer Jim Leiper said. "I'd like to have more people that have paid, but as time goes by I think it will be more accepted."

Water and Sewer Services Manager Billy Clayton said he's not surprised to have nearly 1,900 unpaid fees after the first month. His department has been billing and collecting the monthly fee for flood control and prevention work. The fee has been added to customers' water and sewer bills.

"It's still early," he said. "Some people for whatever reason only pay (their water and sewer bill) every two months anyway."

Eventually, county leaders could take people who do not pay the fee to magistrate court, Mr. Leiper said.

"I think you are going to have some who just refuse to pay it because they don't believe in it," he said. "We've already gotten a couple of checks back in that said they refused to pay the fee."

Residents aren't the only ones who don't want to pay Columbia County's stormwater utility fee. The Columbia County Board of Education paid its first monthly stormwater utility fee, but it didn't mean to and has since requested reimbursement of the $2,513.

"Our intent up until this point was to wait until it was resolved," School Superintendent Tommy Price said of the stormwater fee. Depending on the amount of impervious surface, the assessments for the 17 schools in the stormwater district ranged from as low as $55 for Martinez Elementary to as high as $622 for the Lakeside schools.

School system officials contend it's a violation of the Georgia Constitution for the district to use tax dollars to pay the stormwater assessment, because it doesn't directly benefit education.

Still, school board attorney Bill Fleming said there are issues to be worked out.

"I know the school board just wants to put this behind them, but we don't want to start taking money out of children's budgets to do it," Mr. Fleming said. "We want to work it out in a positive way."

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115.