By REID TUCKER
The Paxton Town Council passed two resolutions, accepted a bid to renew the permit for the wastewater treatment facility and voted to send a water customer a certified letter explaining the Council’s intention to sue, if necessary, over an unpaid bill. The Council held its regular monthly meeting on Aug. 16.
First of all, the Council unanimously passed resolution 11-01, which enables the city’s water clerk to write off any water accounts that have been delinquent for a period of a year or more. The city will maintain internal records of the delinquent accounts for the purpose of establishing new accounts and re-opening existing accounts upon payment of back charges.
Resolution 11-02, which, as discussed at last month’s meeting, will bring the city in line with new legislation handed down from the state that prohibits any municipal or county government from enacting or enforcing any ordinances or resolutions relating to firearms or ammunition regulation. Furthermore, the resolution voids any previous ordinance, resolution, rule or regulation relating to firearms or ammunition that may have been passed by the city in the past. City Attorney Lori Bytell said this extra step puts the city in the free-and-clear in regard to this new state law.
“If we have anything on our books this resolution will make that ordinance, policy or whatever procedure null and void, so we’re covered,” she said. “It rescinds everything that we have (relating to firearm regulation) and returns that authority back to the state.”
Bytell made a point of reminding the board that the new Florida law enables fines of up to $5,000 to be levied per individual Council member that votes in favor of any firearm regulation, while government entities can be fined up to $100,000 for noncompliance with the new law, which will go into effect on Oct. 1.
The Council also voted unanimously to accept the $6,500 bid of Preble-Rish, Inc. (PRI) for the requisite five-year permitting of the city’s wastewater treatment facility. The Council received only one other bid besides PRI’s and this was from MBV Engineering of Vero Beach, which did not include a final amount owed for the repermitting. MBV also failed to provide the Council with a scope of services, something that PRI did.
Taking care of another required renewal, the Council approved what amounts to a one-year extension of the city’s contract with the city’s auditor, Rabren, Odom, Pierce & Hayes, for almost $2,000 less than what is normally charged. The Andalusia, Ala. firm usually charges $14,000 for auditing services but City Clerk Suzan Imfeld said, thanks to a special deal with the firm, the amount owed will not exceed $12,200.
Bytell had an update of sorts for the Council regarding the water customer that appeared before the Council in May regarding his inability to pay a $2,448 bill. At that month’s meeting, the Council subsequently downgraded the amount owed to $1,800 by waiving late fees and then entered into an agreement with the individual wherein he would pay $74 per month on top of his usual water bill until the outstanding $1,800 was paid in full. Apparently, Bytell said, city water employees discovered that, not only had this individual failed to make good on his arrangement to pay the city monthly but he had also disconnected his water meter “without the intention to pay” and had hooked his own water system in with that of a neighboring property where his mother lives.
The city has no power to terminate the services of the new account since it is not delinquent, but the water department can regulate the offending individual’s conduct as it is in violation of Florida law and could be construed as constituting theft. The Council voted to give Bytell the authority to send the individual in question a certified letter making clear the Council’s intention to sue for the back charges if he did not remove his water connection from his mother’s meter and pay the city the remainder of the amount owed.
Bytell said the individual would have 48 hours to comply with the instructions in the letter before Paxton water department employees, accompanied by Walton County Sheriff’s deputies, were sent to the individual’s home with instructions to forcibly terminate his illegal water connection.
“I’m not trying to suggest that we take a vindictive or vicious approach, it’s just a matter of economics,” Bytell said. “$1,800 is a lot for us to have to eat that bill. It’s unfair that that burden is placed on the rest of Paxton to have to absorb because he’s just not responsible enough to pay his obligations. It’s not fair and it’s illegal and I think we should do something about it.”
The adjacent property to the individual in question had not been connected to the water system in two years, she said.
In other lawsuit-related news, Bytell also informed the Council that the Greg Williams Electrical Co., the former tenant of Paxton’s airport building, had filed for bankruptcy, which will in all likelihood mean the city of Paxton will not be able to recoup the majority of the roughtly $2,400 still owed. Bytell said she will file a request to be put on list of judgment creditors.
“We’ll probably receive a very small portion of what they owe us…but we’ll take whatever the bankruptcy court will give us,” she said. “If there’s something to get we’ll try to get it.”
Moving into departmental reports, Councilman Charles Cook, head of parks and recreation, showed fellow Council members samples of the prospective shade trees to be planted at the Dixie Youth League baseball facility. The Council eventually decided to purchase about 12 examples of sawtooth oak at the cost of $100 per tree. Cook said he will make contact with Dixie Youth officials before the next Town Council meeting about the selection and placement of the trees at the ballpark.
Councilman Travis McMillian announced that the upgrade to the city’s water system is nearly complete after months in the works. In addition to switching from pipes with 3-inch diameters to ones with 6-inch diameters, Paxton will also have 26 new fire hydrants once the water system overhaul is completed.
Finally, City Clerk Suzan Imfeld notified the Council that the Florida League of Cities was preparing an award ceremony for Councilman Bobby Kemp, who turned 79 the day of the August Council meeting, in honor of his 40 years of public service as a town councilman. Imfeld said the League of Cities planned to have the ceremony in September but no date had been fixed at press time.