Village hit with $21,510.33 sewer bill

The city has not charged the Seattle property owners for the past three years.

As stocking stuffers go, one might prefer coal.

The owners of the Village Shopping Center, and by extension its 18 tenant businesses, were presented this month with a bill from the city for $21,510.33 for back sewer service charges.

“It was an unpleasant surprise, certainly,” said Helen Wattley-Ames, property manager for the Joshua Green Corporation of Seattle, which owns the Village and two neighboring commercial buildings on Hildebrand Lane.

“When we pay out (utility) money, it ends up being charged back to the tenants,” Wattley-Ames said. “So we feel responsible to control those expenses, and predict them as closely as we can. Anytime we find something like this, it’s an issue because it’s going to be an issue for a tenants.”

The charges go back to the beginning of 2001, when Joshua Green Corporation purchased the Village property from another concern. Since that time, the property apparently has been billed for water, but not sewer.

City Finance Director Ralph Eells said the error was noticed as his department readies its conversion to a new accounting system.

Perhaps two dozen other non-billed sewer accounts, most of them residential and “much, much, much smaller,” were discovered, he said.

The city has given customers six months to pay their outstanding bills. Wattley-Ames said that after the Village’s bill is paid, the charges to tenants will be spread out over a two-year period.

Village tenants were notified of the back charges in a recent letter estimating their maintenance, tax and insurance costs for 2004, she said.

In a Dec. 3 letter to the Joshua Green Corporation, Eells conceded that the non-billing “is not your fault,” and that the back service charges are “a whopper.”

Nevertheless, he said, now that the oversight has been discovered, the city has no latitude but to collect.

“State law requires me to collect the bill,” Eells said this week. “While that’s unfortunate, I don’t have any choice in the matter.

“It would have been much more convenient for us to start billing and forget it, but I believe you have to do the right thing, even when that’s inconvenient.”

That didn’t placate Jerry Murphy, owner of Island Tanning Center in the Village, who suggested that an audit of the city books might be in order.

“You get a letter like that, and they say they don’t know how it happened but they know how much (is owed),” Murphy said. “That’s strange.”

The latest state audit of city financial affairs should be released any day; a draft report reviewed by the administration reportedly knocks the city for another late filing of required information, a chronic problem for the organization. It is unknown whether other deficiencies were found.

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