School Board may sue city over fee dispute
GRU ended a business partners agreement with the schools over unpaid stormwater fees.
Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 4:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 11:23 p.m.
The threat of higher electricity bills could trigger a lawsuit, the attorney for the Alachua County School Board said Thursday, after Gainesville's city utility terminated a business partners agreement as a result of the long-running dispute over the school district's unpaid stormwater fees.
The School Board will decide Tuesday whether to consider legal action against Gainesville Regional Utilities after it received notice that the agreement had been terminated.
"I will recommend, in the event our bills are different, that we file suit for breach of contract," School Board attorney Susan Seigle said. "We don't think there's a basis in law or fact."
GRU recently notified the district that by failing to pay last year's stormwater management fees — more than $100,000 — it had violated a business partners agreement. The district currently receives varying discounts of as much as 13 percent for more than 50 utility accounts. The current contract ends in June 2012.
Penalties also include refunding the past three years' worth of discounts and a $250 early termination fee, according to the notice sent by GRU's attorney, Raymond Manasco Jr.
Superintendent Dan Boyd said the district believes, based on prior Florida court cases, that the district shouldn't have to pay the fee and that nonpayment shouldn't affect its contract with GRU.
"They need to think twice before they terminate it," he said.
Requests to speak with the city attorney for comment had not been fulfilled by late Thursday.
The notice is the latest wrinkle in an 18-month battle between the city and the School Board.
In December 2009, the School Board voted unanimously to stop paying the $12,000-a-month fee, which led to several failed mediation attempts.
GRU gave notice in September 2010 that the district was in default. The notice extended the normal 90-day notice period to Jan. 1 "to afford those board members taking office upon election in November a reasonable opportunity to address this issue."
Former School Board members accused the utility and the city of waiting for a more favorable board.
The city has sued the School Board over the stormwater fees, which the district is not obligated to pay, Seigle said. The district has moved to dismiss.
The Pinellas County School Board won in circuit court against the city of Clearwater over stormwater fees.
At issue is whether the fee is a user fee or a tax. Governmental bodies are exempt from paying taxes.
The School Board will vote at its meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. on authorizing legal action.
"It's going to be a fight," Seigle said.
Contact Jackie Alexander at email@example.com or 338-3166.
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