A state senator and former Atlanta City Councilmember are among those demanding the city of Atlanta collect some $1 million in water and sewer bills that have been unpaid for 15 years from a Buckhead condo homeowners association.
State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), former Atlanta City Council member Derrick Boazman and community activist Michael Langford held a press conference Aug. 25 in the front of the Phoenix on Peachtree Condominiums and asked for an investigation into the city’s Department of Watershed be made into how and why the condo’s water and sewer bills went unpaid to the city since 2001. They also urged the city to collect the $1 million.
“It is almost incredulous to be standing in front of a tower that boasts a Buckhead address, with sales in this building upward of $1 million for some units, because either the watershed department, or the mayor’s office, or the City Council is giving away a million dollars in unpaid bills,” Boazman said. “And in the southwest [of Atlanta] they are turning off water for not paying.
“You can’t just give away $1 million in free water,” Boazman said.
A few residents of the condo at 2881 Peachtree St. have spoken out saying they want to and should pay for the unpaid water bills that happened apparently because of a meter not operating correctly. The HOA did collect the fees from residents for water and sewer payments, but did not use it pay the bills and instead put the funds in with the HOA’s general fund, said Jack Richardson, a financial analyst who has lived in the condo since shortly after it opened in 2001.
Richardson said at the Aug. 25 press conference he first noticed the unpaid water and sewer bills in a 2003 audit of the condo HOA and brought it the board’s attention and thought the matter was going to be fixed. He learned again in early 2015 the bills were not being paid.
“I still have a feeling it’s not going to be paid,” he said. “If anyone didn’t pay their bill for 15 years, their water would be turned off. Why do we get special privileges because we have politically connected board members.”
Former Atlanta Superintendent Errol Davis is a resident of the condos and serves on the HOA board. Davis told broadcast partner CBS 46 last month (see video below) that the condos were being over charged for water and under charged for sewer usage for nearly a decade.
“We have not been assessed any arrearages and again that’s part of our understanding going forward, so I do not anticipate that we will be paying anything going forward,” Davis said.
Lillian Govus, spokesperson for the Department of Watershed Management, attended the Aug. 25 press conference and answered questions, saying the condo tower has been billed for water but not sewer services. Whether the department will order payment on the unpaid water bills remains to be determined, she said.
“This complex was charged for water,” she said. “This is not a forgiveness. This is not a million dollar gift. It was a billing error on our part.” The water bill problems were fixed in 2015, she said, and the department is making policy changes to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.
Boazman interrupted Govus to say there is a problem if the city is trying to distinguish between unpaid water and unpaid sewer bills.
“We don’t need that kind of doublespeak from a Department of Watershed employee,” he said.
Fort said the “deafening silence from the City Council” on the issue is disturbing. “It’s time for City Hall to work for everybody, not just the wealthy, not just the well off.”
Boazman, Fort and Langford said they would like to see the $1 million be used to help senior citizens who can’t pay their own water bills.
“Some of the richest people in the city, including Erroll Davis, are willing to accept a freebie. Where I come from they call that stealing,” Boazman said.
Video below of a July story from our broadcast partners about the unpaid water bills: