Yesterday we wrote that Gateway needs more residents who would be willing to run for the Board of Supervisors of the Gateway Services Community Development District.

One of the first things you should change, if elected, is the water and sewer utility deposit policy.

Imagine you just move in to the community. You get your stuff in the house, and notice there’s no running water.

No problem. Just call the water company.

You discover that there’s no water company in Gateway. It’s the GSCDD that operates the water and sewer systems, so you call them instead.

The lady on the phone at the GSCDD offices mumbles something about the same people always being tagged, and then proceeds to tell you that you cannot have water because the previous resident didn’t pay their water bill.

Ah, it’s a misunderstanding.

You explain that you just moved in. You’re new to Gateway. It isn’t your water bill, you’re trying to establish new service.

No matter, shrugs the GSCDD representative on the other end of the line.

You want water? Then you need to pay off the old resident’s balance first, she tells you.

When a Gateway Sun reader wrote on our Facebook page about how this very situation played out for her I couldn’t believe it. I reached out to GSCDD Operations Manager Scott Connell and he confirmed that this was the way it works in Gateway.

Connell explained the GSCDD policy:

According to the Rules of the District, the utility bill is lien-able against the property. Therefore, when a property is for sale the Title company typically contacts our office for a pay off balance to include in the sale of the property. We do not collect social security numbers because the utility bill is tied to the property not to a specific person. The current utility account for a property is held in the name of the legal owner, and if the property is a rental, a second “sub account” is opened for the tenant.

A customer’s deposit is always applied to the final bill before transferring any remaining balance to the new owner. When a new owner calls us to establish service, we inform them of any balances due from the previous owner so that they have the opportunity to contact their title company and get it resolved. We do not transfer any balances until all collection efforts have been exhausted.

Again because the bill is lien-able, the District holds deposits until the sale of the property or transfer of legal ownership. If the property is rented then the District also collects a deposit from the tenant in an effort to protect the owner from incurring any charges left behind by the tenant. When a deposit is due to be refunded, the District issues a check within 30 days with or without a request from the previous owner. The District’s billing department also performs quarterly Deposit reconciliations to make sure that all deposit refunds due to customers have been issued and that the District is not holding on to deposits for customers that are no longer residents of Gateway.

This is actually pretty amazing.

In Gateway you could legally be on the hook for another person’s water bill, and they’ll deny you water service unless you pay it.

Yes, the old resident should have paid their water bill. Got it, Ed. But maybe it was a foreclosure. Maybe they believed the deposit was sufficient to cover their balance when they left. Maybe the debt should have been written off in bankruptcy. Maybe there was a divorce and life became so chaotic for that family that they just didn’t care about the water bill.

And I’m certainly no angel myself when it comes to the water bills. I’ve been late 3 or 4 times paying it.

But I’m also a business owner, and never in a thousand years would I even dream of refusing service to someone until they pay an outstanding balance belonging to someone else. If somebody doesn’t pay me and I can’t collect it, I write it off. That’s just how it works. I don’t get to pursue someone else for the money.

Maybe the GSCDD should re-think their entire deposit policy. Supervisor Rod Senior recently said that people with solid payment histories should have their deposits refunded, and I agree.

On the other side of the coin, for families with above average water bills the GSCDD should require a larger deposit so that the above scenario doesn’t play itself out. And I say that as someone whose water bill is usually over the $200 deposit I gave (we’re a family of 6), so my own deposit should probably increase.

But no matter what, nobody should be compelled to pay a debt belonging to someone else.

Especially not for something essential such as water service.

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

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