The city might pony up as much as $220,000 to pay a portion of the assessments residents of the Cold Creek development were hit with earlier this month.
"It would represent an equitable adjustment on a mistake we made," commission president Dennis Murray Jr. said.
The mistake, according to Murray, was in not informing the residents they could pay the assessments early and avoid interest charges on the fees. Estimated assessments were included in the original purchase agreements for the homes to pay for building the roads, sewer and other infrastructure at the development off Venice Road. Homes in the development originally sold for $250,000 to $300,000.
Residents received the notices earlier this month, and some initially believed the assessments -- in the $20,000 to $22,000 range -- would be due in full immediately. The current interest charges amounted to $2,000 or more in some cases, but the assessments plus additional interest can be spread over 20 years for each property owner and paid with the yearly tax bills.
The road construction and other infrastructure work at the development, which includes about 90 single-family lots and some condominium lots, came to about $2.6 million. That money is financed through bonds that will be repaid by the residents and lot owners through the assessments.
More than half of the lots remain under the ownership of the developer, Joseph Yost. Murray said he was very reluctant to include assessment reductions for Yost because he contends Yost's estimates of the assessment costs were inaccurate.
But Mary Sherwood, a CPA who works for Yost, said that was just plain wrong.
"There's a reluctance on the city's part to allow the numbers to be reviewed independently," she said.
Commissioner Dave Waddington said city commission needs to examine the proposal, which was suggested by city manager Matt Kline.
"We need to put this under a microscope and carefully examine it," he said.
Kline suggested money from the city water and the city sewer funds could be used to offset the cost because much of the infrastructure work included water and sewer lines.
Waddington also said city staff members need to arrange a meeting with the developer to review the status of the development and smooth out problems that have occurred. He said staff members also must learn to be more responsive to residents who call city hall with concerns.
"Why didn't we send out notices in 2006 and last year telling them these assessments could be paid early to avoid interest charges?" he asked. "When residents call, city employees need to remember they are the bosses. They are my boss and your boss."
City staff members also need to better track telephone inquiries and other information requests from residents, Waddington said, because many problems could be avoided if the lines of communication are improved.
Commissioner Brett Fuqua concurred.
"I couldn't agree more," he said. "Every phone call should be documented."
About a dozen homeowners attended the informal meeting and expressed frustration over the billing and the way city officials handled inquiries.