Bills flow even after water shut off - FOX 13 News

Bills flow even after water shut off

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NEW PORT RICHEY (FOX 13) -

If you're a homeowner, chances are you get a bill every month for water and sewer. The more you use, the more you pay -- that's the way it usually works, but not always.

"I'm being billed for something, for not using it," complained Phil Bailey. "It's just wrong."

Bailey was forced to walk away from his New Port Richey home that he had lived in with his family back in 2010. He was a victim of the economy when his small business went under.

"I'm very embarrassed and ashamed of the situation we're in and what put us to this point," Bailey continued.

Now he's been hit with bills he can't pay, but was shocked when he got a bill for something he doesn't even use.

"The day we moved out, I turned the water off at the street."

But a few months ago, in June, he got a bill for $32.23 for water and sewer. Another bill followed in July even though the water at his four-bedroom house on Moon Shadow Road has been shut off for years, the bills suddenly started flowing.

"Most utilities charge a base charge. So essentially, any property owner that has a usage is essentially assessed a base charge," explained Matt Rihs with the Florida Governmental Utility Authority (FGUA).

FGUA was established by state statute back in 1999 and services more than 90,000 customers in four Florida counties. Rihs says, over the summer, the company approved something called a monthly inactivity account charge. As you might imagine, Phil Bailey is not the only complaint.

"We have to make sure we can meet our bond requirements," continued Rihs. "We have to be able to provide a service to customers and if we don't collect on that then you are looking at higher rates for all customers."

That didn't sit well with Bailey. "It was like they were reading off a script. They said we can do this if we decide to and we've decided to."

State Senator Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican, has heard the complaints and can sympathize. As a state lawmaker, he's worked hard fighting for the little guy in Tallahassee, leading the charge against rate hikes at Citizens Insurance.

However, in this case, he doesn't see a big company taking advantage of customers and only looking out for itself.

"That base rate is so others won't be hit with a higher cost if that person decides he no longer wants services," said Fasano. "Somebody has to pay the bills and it shouldn't be those who have decided to stay in their homes and reside in that community."

Fasano says public and private utility companies around the state are now charging for non-use and FUGA is the rule not the exception.

That still doesn't sit well with Bailey.

"I got kind of aggravated on them on phone," he said. "Times are hard and I'm not the only person. I don't know how many phone calls you've received, but I told them this is just not right. You're billing something people don't even use."

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