Gateway Sun

Scott Connell serves as the Operations Manager for the Gateway Services Community Development District.

At the February 19, 2015 meeting of the Board of Supervisors of the GSCDD, Connell began complaining to the Supervisors that many Gateway residents don’t pay their water bills on time. Connell was taking part in a discussion about staffing and he was trying to get across that it’s a waste of time to have his employees running around the town placing late notices on people’s doors.

“Every 2 months when we start doing our billing we spend 3 days putting tags on doors of people who are late. Cause they won’t pay! And then we go out and lock meters. So it takes time and staff. Then they come in and pay then 5 minutes later we have to go out and unlock. So now we’re down, we lose probably I dunno, 5 days every 2 months with 3 people running around doing that. That’s not productive,” Connell said.

Productive? No.

But profitable? Yes.

If you do the math, Connell and everyone else in Gateway should actually be hoping that nobody pays their water bills on time – ever.

I’m speaking from experience on this matter. This writer has failed to pay his water bill on time and a little yellow notice appears on my door with a date and time I need to pay it (more on that later). I also get a $10 fee added to my bill, and therein lies my point.

In a discussion I had with a GSCDD staffer in October 2014, about 450 residents get ‘tagged’ (their term) each billing cycle with about 40 to 50 actually getting their water shut off.

At $10 per ‘tagged’ home that’s $4,500.

If 50 people get shut off and pay the $50 reconnect fee that’s an additional $2,500, totaling $7,000 every 2 months. Or $42,000 per year.

If it does indeed take a whole 5-day work week for 3 employees to deal with tagging and shut-offs – that comes out to $2,333.33 in revenue generated by each of those three employees.

So where’s the real problem here? And more importantly: why does this upset anyone at the GSCDD?

Take the money and run.

And if the Supervisors don’t like that Gateway is under-utilizing the skills of the GSCDD’s talented staff, at $42,000 for 90 person-days of work there’s obviously plenty of room here for a solution to be found.

The GSCDD may have also been causing part of the problem themselves.

A ‘tag’ that I got read: This is a friendly reminder that we have not received payment for your water service. In order to avoid service interruption, please provide payment to our office by October 29, 2014.

They underlined October 29, 2014.

Now if I tell you I’ll lend you $20 but I want it back by Friday, any reasonable person would think that you could stop by Friday night after work and pay me back. Quite frankly, even if you paid me at 10:00pm on Friday – you still paid me back by Friday.

But the GSCDD didn’t see it that way. They literally told me on the phone that when they said to pay it by October 29, 2014 what they actually meant was I needed to pay it by 5:00pm on October 28, 2014 or my water could be shut off.

I’m not exaggerating. That’s exactly what they said.

How many re-connect fees have they collected over the years with their confusing ‘tag’? How many working hours have been ‘lost’ that Connell bemoans as a result of their own terribly worded ‘tags’? How many needless arguments with residents have the ‘tags’ caused?

The good news (or bad news if you want the GSCDD to make more money) is that they’ve changed the notices. They now state the due date and time with perfect clarity and I assume they won’t shut off people’s water before the time stated in the deadline.

We reached out to Connell to ask him for a brief comment and to let us know if the new verbiage on the tags helped reduce the number of shut offs.

“I am in receipt of your email and question, please let me review and respond in the next couple days,” Connell told us via email.

We explained to Connell that we normally wait 48 hours for replies. In this case we’ve waited 72 hours and nothing has come forth at the time we published this piece. It’s possible Connell felt that since our 48 hour deadline had passed there was no point sending the info late, but if Connell gets us the information we’ll update this post.

Again, we did not ask for specific numbers of shut offs. We just asked if the number went up or down with the new wording on the tags.

Yes, of course, we should all pay our water bill on time. And when we don’t the GSCDD has every right to ‘tag’ us and eventually shut our water off. And they also have the right to tack on appropriate fees and collect them.

But despite the fact that Gateway is filled with nice homes and even nicer people, there are times when a family’s financial circumstances require them to make a decision of paying an extra $10 at a later date in order to be able to use those funds on something they decide is more pressing.

There are also stories of GSCDD staff members being outright insulting and showing a general disdain toward Gateway’s residents over water bills. Late payers are obviously a source of frustration for them, but perhaps if the staff thought about times in their own lives when they paid a bill late they would be a bit more understanding.

And we hope they now realize that the GSCDD’s own tags were causing at least some of the shut-offs, and by extension causing many of the worst arguments they’ve had with residents over the years.

It’s been revealed lately that the GSCDD is understaffed, but that’s no excuse to lash out at a resident who may be having a tough time or may need to pay their water bill late.

The clearer wording on the ‘tags’ probably won’t reduce the number of people who pay late (cha-ching!), but hopefully there will be fewer actual shut-offs and less arguments at the GSCDD office as a result.

Which reminds me, I need to go pay my water bill.

About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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