BELLEAIR BLUFFS -- Belleair Beach may be facing another lawsuit as commissioners from Belleair Shore found, at their meeting August 18, that the refund of overcharged sewer fees is utterly inadedquate.
When commissioners learned that residents of their town were going to share in a total pool of some $54,000 with Belleair Beach residents Commissioner Bob Schmidt was outraged.
"The overpayment was considerably more than that, about $128,000 for us alone," he said. "Some thing is drastically wrong here," Schmidt said.
"There's no question we're being ripped off," Commissioner Carl Hilton said.
Mayor John Robertson knew no details on the arrangement. John Elias, the town attorney, reviewed the message from Belleair Beach outlining the refunds but said that an audit report was needed.
Robertson said, "They can do what they want, but at their own risk."
Belleair Shore government paid the sewer fees in its town until Belleair Beach ratheted up the fees to what has been described as exorbitant amounts in March, 2003. The town could no longer afford the high fees and payment fell to individual residents.
That prompted Commissioner John Hayes's question as to whether the town had standing to sue. Elias said that if an examination of the situation warranted a suit and the commission authorized it, a suit would be filed.
Belleair Beach meanwhile, it should be noted, appears to think the sewer refund subject is a done deal, apparently satisfied with their unilateral action on the issue.
Belleair Shore bases its argument on a 1969 agreement that was slightly modified later but was not changed subsequently. The agreement outlined what Belleair Shore would pay for sewer service.
The commmissioners were equally outraged by the proposed 17 cents a square foot fee proposed by the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue district.
"They (the fire commission) are financially irresponsible," said Commissioner Mary Alice Grizzle. "(Tom) Hafner and others have been hostile." Hafner, from Belleair Beach, is the chairman of the fire commission which has been under severe criticism.
If the proposed increase does get to referendum, Robertson said there must be an all-out fight against it, with the use of signs in the areas served by the fire district.
He also urged that commissioners attend the August 28 meeting at Indian Rocks Beach city hall.
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