LAKE WALES

Lake Wales Commission Helps Cover Utility Bills After Nonprofit Errs


Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 11:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 11:25 p.m.

LAKE WALES | A misunderstanding between the city and a local nonprofit organization means the city will pull $2,070 from its general fund to pay the nonprofit's water and sewer bill.

The Green & Gold Foundation received the grant from the Lake Wales City Commission on Tuesday to assist with the water and sewer utility bill for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

The nonprofit will assume sole responsibility for its bills from now on.

The misunderstanding dates to June 2011, when the city handed over the B Street Community Service Center to the Green & Gold Foundation.

At the time, the city agreed to pay the utility bill until Sept. 30, 2010, said City Manager Terry Leary.

The B Street Center was being charged about $350 a month for water and sewer service from the city-owned utility, she said.

The nonprofit took over responsibility for the bill on Oct. 1, 2011, the same date a new rate structure went into effect, adding $2,070 to the annual bill, which previously had been running about $4,200.

Unaware of the new rates, members of Green & Gold operated under the assumption that $350 a month still would be their bill, she said.

The Green & Gold didn't budget for the larger bill, she said, and came to her asking for the city to grant them the money to cover the extra fee.

On Tuesday, Leary presented two options to the City Commission: either transfer money directly from the city's general fund into the utility fund or have Green & Gold make payments on the extra balance.

Leary said city code prohibits the city from simply writing off the charges.

Narvell Peterson, a Green & Gold board member, said the nonprofit has already amended its future budget based on the correct rate.

As for the amount owned, he said, the board would prefer not to make payments since the group raises money to serve the whole community.

Commissioner Betty Wojcik said that it was unfortunate that the city didn't tell Green & Gold that rates would go up.

The vote to grant the money was 3 to 0.

Vice Mayor Terrye Howell, who left the room during the discussion, could not vote under the city's ethics policy because she is a member of the nonprofit's board of directors.

Mayor Mike Carter was absent from Tuesday's meeting.

Commissioner Christopher Lutton said this type of problem with nonprofits has happened twice this year.

"We've had two hiccups on transfers of property to nonprofits," Lutton said.

City staff needs to look at future property transfers more thoroughly to prevent these types of mistakes, Lutton said Tuesday.

[ Phil Attinger covers the Babson Park, Dundee, Frostproof and Lake Wales areas and may be reached at 863-401-6981 or phil.attinger@newschief.com. ]

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