Texas Park Owner Ignores Water Bill for Empty Sites

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January 11, 2012 by   - () Leave a Comment

Charles Nunn said he will refuse to pay a new water charge because it is against the law, even though the city of San Benito, Texas, is threatening to shut off water to his RV park.

“They’ve got to be trespassing to get to my meter,” Nunn said, pointing to the master water meter at First Colony Mobile and RV Park on Turner Road.

Nunn said his park hasn’t paid $5,300 that has been charged since October when the city passed an ordinance setting a monthly $10 base water fee to individual RV sites, whether the sites are occupied or not, The Monitor reported.

“I said, ‘I’m not paying,’” he said. “I never paid for anything I didn’t owe.”

Nunn cited a state law that he argues prohibits cities from charging water fees to unmetered sites at RV parks.

The law in question was filed in 2005 by state Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, and State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, authored Senate Bill 569 and House Bill 841, respectively.

“The bill was brought to us by campground owners who were concerned about aggressive billing,” Chris Steinbach, Kolkhorst’s chief of staff, said. “So the bill was to keep the billing as accurate as possible.”

State Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, last year authored revised legislation known as House Bill 1210, which prohibits cities from charging all unmetered RV sites, whether they’re occupied or unoccupied, said Brian Schaeffer, executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).

The law exempts mobile homes and permanently tied-down park models, from water meter charges, Schaeffer said.

Barbara North, who manages Nunn’s park, said she doesn’t want to take a chance that the city won’t refund the money if it stops charging the fee.

“They’re going to have to back off and when they back off, the city won’t refund it,” North said.

But Bonnie Dominguez, manager at Fun N Sun RV Resort, said her park has paid the city’s new monthly charge, which amounts to $1,400 for one of Texas’ biggest RV parks.

“I cannot take a chance of the city cutting off my water. That’s why we’re paying,” Dominguez said. “I don’t doubt the city will refund the funds when the time comes.”

The water charge dispute here has flowed to Combes. The city of Combes has cited the San Benito ordinance disagreement and held off charging a $9.25 base water fee for sites at Carefree Valley RV Park, Dee Robertson, who managers Carefree Valley, the town’s only RV park, said.

Combes City Administrator Lonnie Bearden referred questions to the city’s water department Supervisor Noe Alanis, who was out of the office Monday and Tuesday afternoons.

Now Nunn says he’s looking for a lawyer to argue the city’s in violation of the state law.

“I don’t know what else we could do but fight them in court,” Nunn said.

Dominguez said Encore, the company that owns Fun N Sun, is reviewing the city ordinance.

“The last resort is legal action and that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” Dominguez said. “I think we can settle this amicably.”

In the meantime, San Benito officials are seeking advice about the law from the Texas Municipal League, Pete Claudio, chairman of the city’s utility board, said.

“We’re trying to get background information on the law and how it affects us,” Claudio said.

Scott Houston, the TML’s legal director, declined to state whether he believed the city was in violation of the law, saying city commissions and their city attorneys would decide such a question.

“We don’t make a determination on whether what they do is right or wrong,” Houston said.

Houston said the law requires that cities charge unmetered RV sites in the same way that they charge businesses such as hotels.

“They would have to charge using the same rate calculations they use for other commercial businesses,” Houston said.

San Benito city officials said they decided to charge individual RV sites and apartment units a monthly $10 base water fee to help lift the burden of high water rates from single family homes that pay average monthly base water and sewer fees of $49.68.

Claudio has said the city passed the ordinance to help single-home owners shoulder the burden of water rates that have climbed since 2004.

The city’s new ordinance that charges $10 for about 2,900 park sites and apartment units in the city will generate about $348,000 a year to help boost city coffers amid a national recession that’s driven sales tax revenues to six-year lows, Claudio has said.

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