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Published on August 25th, 2016 |

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Black community leaders demand city collect Buckhead condo’s $1M back water bill

An Atlanta mayoral candidate, a former Atlanta city councilman and the president of United Youth Adult Conference met the press in Buckhead Thursday to demand the Phoenix Condominium Association pay its past due $1 million city water bill and that the city not just write it off as a gratuity.

Left to right, Michael Langford, Derrick Boazman and Sen. Vincent Fort address the media in front of the Phoenix condominium in Buckhead.

Left to right, Michael Langford, Derrick Boazman and Sen. Vincent Fort address the media in front of the Phoenix condominium in Buckhead.

Former City Councilman Derrick Boazman took the lead standing at the front door walkway to the Phoenix stating, “It is almost incredulous that we are here today because some of the richest folk in the city feel as if they do not have to pay for water and sewer services when all the rest of us in Atlanta have had to pay our fair share. Where I come from we call that stealing,” he stated.

“We have poor folks in this town who are struggling to pay some of the highest water and sewer rates in the country, but some of the richest folk in the city want to get free water?,” Boazman asked. “Hell no, this must stop and stop now.”

The issue that brought Boazman, State Sen. Vincent Fort and Michael Langford, United Youth Adult Conference president, to the front door of the Phoenix, at 2881 Peachtree Road, was a July report that a billing error allowed the building not to be properly billed for over a decade and now Department of Watershed management is suggesting that the owner of the property not have to pay any back bills.

While the trio of African American community leaders are upset that the Phoenix Home Owners Association has not stepped up and paid the back water/sewer bills, which amount to around $1 million, they all seem equally or more peeved that the city administration is willing to right off that amount of money.

Back in July, investigations by CBS46 and WSB-TV’s Richard Belcher found that the Phoenix homeowner’s association had not been properly paying the city of Atlanta for water and sewer services for almost 15 years.

The media quiz Department of Watershed Management spokesperson Ellen about the bills during the press conference.

The media quiz Department of Watershed Management spokesperson Lillian Govus about the bills during the press conference.

“It could be anywhere from $900,000 to $1.8 million that we owe,” condo owner Chuck Walker told CBS46 at the time. Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management told CBS46 they share the responsibility for the error and will not be back billing the condo association.

Walker loves where he lives, but hates the recent issue involving questionable billing involving his homeowners association at the Phoenix condos on Peachtree Road across from The Peach shopping center in Buckhead.

“I’m assuming that there’s enough money in the fund to cover any expense we have from past due water bills,” Walker told the television station for its copyrighted story.

Former Atlanta school superintendent Errol Davis is a member of the homeowners association.  He said the condos were being over charged for water and under charged for sewer usage for nearly a decade.

Meanwhile, Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Richard Belcher found the homeowners’ association knew it wasn’t being billed for at least 12 years.

“It’s shocking to me. If everyone knew this story, it would cause outrage to everyone,” Phoenix condo owner Jack Richardson told WSB’s Belcher in July. Richardson moved into the building in 2001, just after it opened.

Richardson became aware of the billing problem from a homeowners’ association audit that stated: “As of December 31, 2003, the association had not received a bill for a meter that services

11Alive TV reporter asks Jack Richardson about what he thinks the condo owners should do about the back bills.

11Alive TV reporter asks Jack Richardson about what he thinks the condo owners should do about the back bills.

common areas…This has been a problem from the beginning.”

Richardson told Belcher that he was told the homeowners’ association would pay the bill. But it did not.

In early 2015, 11 years after that audit revealed the billing problem, other residents began to ask questions. One email to fellow residents stated: “it’s very unfortunate that the board…made the extremely questionable decision more than a decade ago not to discover why the association was being grossly under-billed.”

Another emailed: “Surely the directors did not believe the ‘free’ services would last forever.”

WSB reported that another resident told the TV station that HOA board member Davis had said, “The board did not feel that there was an ethical or legal obligation to attempt to pay….unless the city sent a bill.”

“I believe over 15 years we owe approximately $1 million without penalties and interest, just on the bill alone,” Richardson had stated. He is a financial adviser.

According to reports, after members from the HOA board approached the city last fall, the city found meter and billing problems at the condo location that stretched back perhaps as far as 2001.

Michael Langford (back to camera) talks to Derrick Boazman, left, and Jack Richardson and Sen. Vincent Fort prior to the press conference.

Michael Langford (back to camera) talks to Derrick Boazman, left, and Jack Richardson and Sen. Vincent Fort prior to the press conference.

As of October 2015, the HOA started paying both sewer and water bills.

But the word has been that the Department of Watershed Management, as well as Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, has no intent on back-billing the Phoenix for the unpaid water/sewer bills.

According to Lillian Govus, a spokesperson for DWM who attended the press conference in Buckhead Thursday, DWM shares the blame. She said the city did send water bills to Phoenix, but for years had not billed for sewer services. She said collecting the money is still an open issue.

Boazman told the media Thursday, “The city cannot legally give a gratuity. I’m trying to figure out who lives here so that the city is willing to give away $1 million.”

“City Hall has lost its way,” said Sen. Fort. “There is no better proof of that than what is happening right here.”

Fort added, “I have not heard anything from members of City Council. It was our hope that when the new commissioner came on there would be a new day at the Department of Watershed Management. It is time for City Hall to work for everybody.”

The Phoenix on Peachtree condominium building, which opened in 2001.

The Phoenix on Peachtree condominium building, which opened in 2001.

Phoenix condo owner Richardson clearly stated Thursday what all those at the press conference agreed with (except apparently the representative from DWM): “I believe we should have to pay for the water and sewer services we have received all these years.”

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    3 Responses to Black community leaders demand city collect Buckhead condo’s $1M back water bill

    1. Juan Doe says:

      Michael Langford, Derrick Boazman and Sen. Vincent Fort should be equally appalled with the city of Atlanta and Department of Watershed Management for not requesting payment or sending a bill.

      It is really sad this group spins the story as rich white folk not paying. They should be at city hall giving them hell about being so dysfunction that created this mess to begin with.

    2. Justin Wiedeman says:

      I commend the new Commissioner for taking an independent look at recovering fees for service. No one should get a free ride.

      While the estimated $1 million is certainly a lot of money, the City has spent billions on a sewer program that does not do what it is supposed to do. The new Commissioner should also take an independent look at the performance of those responsible for planning, designing and executing the multi-billion program that has failed to perform.

      The most recent Consent Order (April 2016) with the State cost the City another $378,000 for significant failures in performance. Just an indication of the burden the citizens of Atlanta continue to shoulder as we continue to suffer from sewage in our neighborhoods, parks and creeks.

      The City’s approach to changing the definitions of combined system sewage does not make a difference to the neighbors downstream. While we have had a drought we have had temporary relief but as wet weather returns “discharges” will return. For neighbors downstream the change of definitions from sewage to discharges does not make sewage in our neighborhood, parks and creeks any more tolerable.

      While I applaud the Commissioner’s action to potentially recover fees for service, the much larger issue is the failure of the billion sewer program to perform. As ratepayers we will continue to pay for corrections to these systems at considerable expense.

    3. Pamela Kline says:

      I believe this is an outrage. To knowingly not pay a bill should be a crime.

      I discovered a toilet leak that was running for three days while I was out of town. The plumber said the leak was probably going on long before it made a noise.

      I’m responsible for 100% of the charge (>$1,500) because the City will not allow residents to dispute toilet leaks unless they are hearing impaired.

      Where’s the equity here?

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