Utility Charges Getting Reviewed

MGN Online
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Utility bill charges affecting some 18,000 Leon County residents are now being reviewed.

Bruce Bates is leading a grassroots movement against what he calls an unfair double tax.

At issue is a Leon County tax and an equal city surcharge only Leon County residents who have Tallahassee Utilities pay.

Everyone else in Leon County pays only one tax.

On Tuesday, Leon County Commissioners referred the matter to the county's administrator and attorney for review.

Their recommendations are pending.

A local man is waging a war against what he believes are unfair charges for some Tallahassee Utilities customers.

At issue is a double charge for those customers when most Leon County residents only pay one.

Driving around Tallahassee, you may have seen Bruce Bates holding and wearing signs like he did Wednesday morning at the corner of Thomasville and Maclay Roads.

Bates lives in unincorporated Leon County.

Most of those residents get Talquin Electric.

However roughly 18,000 customers get Tallahassee Utilities.

Those customers are charged both a city surcharge and county tax.

Everyone else in Leon County only pays one tax.

"Our question is, why are 18-thousand of us being singled out to pay twice as much as everybody else in the county," said Bates.

Thirty years ago, Leon County sued to stop that city surcharge.

However, the Florida Supreme Court ruled it was okay because both city and county residents were paying the same overall charge.

That fact changed in 2003 when the county started its own public service tax equal to the city surcharge.

Only county residents getting Tallahassee Utilities pay both charges.

"I don't think it's fair," said Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge. "I think that if you're paying a different price fo rthe same service basically, then we've got a problem," he said.

Desloge says he'll ask the county's attorney for legal advice on the issue.

The stakes are high.

The county collects roughly $7.5-million each year with its tax.

The city collects $2.2 million for the surcharge on its county customers.

"The surcharge is an integral part of our rates, it's no different than any other element of our rates," said Reese Goad of Tallahassee Utilities.

"I don't know that either one of them is going to give it up easily," said Bates.

The stakes are also high for county residents paying the two charges.

Bates estimates those residents paying about $200 a month for utilities are paying an extra $240 per year for the additional charge.

And he says many residents in unincorporated Leon County are among the poorest people in the community.

He's working to get a hearing before the Public Service Commission.


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