TARPON SPRINGS — Over the past year, the city has dealt with such weighty issues as the battle over Wal-Mart and the dismissal of the city manager.
Tuesday, the biggest flap was over water meters.
But it's not as mundane as you might think. At stake are a couple of neighborhoods getting special treatment and the possibility of expensive liability issues.
Here's the background: Nearly all of the 74 developments (condos, mobile home parks and single-family home subdivisions) that use city water have a master meter. A city employee reads it, and the homeowners association pays the city through fees collected from residents.
But city workers have been providing an extra service by reading individual meters at two upscale communities — Harbour Watch on the west side of town and Lake Tarpon Sail and Tennis Club on the east.
City commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to discontinue the service to bring those two private communities in line with the 72 others.
Public works director Juan Cruz said the city was setting a "vast precedent" that could prompt other communities to ask for the same service, something that could exhaust city staffing resources.
Worse, the city attorney's office said, the city was opening itself up to various liabilities, including responsibility for maintenance or repair of privately owned water lines.
Both communities had one-year contracts with the city for the service. Harbour Watch's contract expired in 1992, the other expired in 1998. Commissioners said they were frustrated the matter hadn't been handled when those agreements ended.
Residents have paid $2 a month to have their individual meters read since the contracts were signed. Today, the "true cost" to the city would be about $11 per home, said interim City Manager Mark LeCouris.
Cruz had recommended a 90-day amnesty while the communities developed a methodology to split up the bills. Commissioners extended that to six months and offered to set up meetings with city staff members to assist.
In other meeting news:
• Mayor Beverley Billiris announced a new initiative, "Coffee with the Mayor," to share information, gauge concerns and recruit residents willing to advocate on behalf of the city. Billiris said she hopes to encourage residents to call and e-mail state and federal representatives about issues that impact the city that arise during legislative sessions.
• City Commissioner Chris Alahouzos got a consensus from the board to start the process of creating a budget advisory committee that will report to the commission. Alahouzos said a fresh perspective could help identify ways to cut costs and maximize revenues at a critical economic time. "We have people with experience and skills in finance and economics that can provide us with analysis," Alahouzos said. "It's another set of eyes."
Rita Farlow can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4162.