TREASURE ISLAND — So far unsuccessful efforts to resolve a dispute over $300,000 in wastewater treatment overcharges may force city officials to move a step closer Tuesday to suing neighboring St. Petersburg.
A reluctant City Commission is considering filing for formal mediation that state law requires before one government can sue another.
The resolution calling for the "conflict resolution" procedure cites Treasure Island's claim that it is due a refund from St. Petersburg for overcharges levied between 2004 and 2008.
"You were overcharged and there is a five-year statute of limitations on recovering the money," city attorney Maura Kiefer warned during a previous workshop.
Kiefer stressed that each day the city delays in beginning legal action represents money the city can no longer recover.
By passing the mediation resolution, the city would legally fix the date for calculating the start of surcharges.
The commission is reluctant, however, to start a legal battle with St. Petersburg.
"We don't want to be at war with our neighbor city," Commissioner Alan Bildz said this month. "But fair is fair. We are ready to fight."
Two months ago, Mayor Bob Minning wrote a personal letter to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster asking that the two cities negotiate the issue without having to go to court.
Foster did not reply.
Minning said Thursday he intends to make at least one more effort to contact Foster before the Tuesday meeting.
"I hope we can find some middle ground. I always prefer to opt for a negotiated settlement rather than go to a lawsuit. That way, everybody wins," Minning said.
St. Petersburg's manager of special projects, Evelyn Rosetti, maintains that St. Petersburg cannot refund money when there is no scientific data proving an excessive surcharge existed.
Treasure Island, however, says an 18-month-long survey adequately demonstrates that saltwater intrusion into sewer lines is much less than calculated by St. Petersburg and, therefore, surcharges for such intrusions were in error.
It seems that only one of the city's two lift stations was measured for chloride content beginning in 2004.
Then, in 2008, Treasure Island asked St. Petersburg to test both stations. The result was a drastic drop in calculations of total saltwater intrusion and a significant lowering of surcharges levied by St. Petersburg.
Treasure Island believes this is the proof it needs that St. Petersburg should not have charged so much before.
If the city does begin legal action over the wastewater surcharges, it will be the second wastewater-related lawsuit between the two cities.
The other legal battle involves Treasure Island's refusal to pay fees levied by St. Petersburg for treating wastewater generated outside that city's limits.