Sandusky officials have said Joe Yost owes the city about $60,000 for an unpaid water bill at his Venice Road mobile home park.
But the amount he actually owes for water and sewer service at Hoppers mobile home park is far larger — $260,000.
For years, city officials had transferred much of the past-due water bill to Yost’s property tax bill. The situation dragged on from 2008 to 2013, until city officials finally got fed up and decided to cut off water to the mobile home park.
Erie County auditor Rick Jeffrey said Yost owes $293,487 on the Hoppers property tax bill, including penalties and interest.
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The original amount of money transferred from the Hoppers water and sewer bill to the property tax bill was $93,062, but the total bill for that is now $197,788.
“Basically, $100,000 of that is penalties and interest,” Jeffrey said.
That $197,000, together with the approximately $60,000 currently owed to the city for water and sewer, amounts to a total delinquent city water bill of about $260,000.
Ed Widman was the city’s finance director in 2008, leaving that position until April 2010. Widman, who now works for the county’s finance department, said that when he and then-city manager Matt Kline discussed the situation in 2008, they didn’t realize it would drag on so long.
“You start with a course of action. You think it’s the right thing to do at the time,” Widman said. “I don’t think we ever envisioned this being a long, drawn out process.”
Yost made his last normal water bill payment, of $1,500, on Jan. 18, 2008, according to city finance records supplied after the Register made a public records request.
After that, as the water and sewer bill continued to pile up, large amounts of the bill were sporadically transferred to Yost’s property tax bill.
By law, whenever Yost made a payment on his property taxes, the portion consisting of the city’s past-due water bill would take priority to receive the payment first, said Hank Solowiej, who replaced Widman as the city’s finance director.
The city had a longstanding policy of trying to avoid becoming involved in landlord-tenant disputes, as cutting off water essentially allowed landlords to evict tenants without going through the normal eviction process, Widman said.
Widman said he remembers discussing the matter with Kline, but he does not remember ever presenting it to city commissioners.
Solowiej said that when he took over as finance director, he became uncomfortable with the lack of resolution to the problem.
“I wanted some feedback from other people and other departments,” Solowiej said. “It seemed like, to me, this just wasn’t right.”
That led to the current policy of cutting off the water for nonpayment. This, of course, has forced the tenants at Hoppers mobile home park to move by the beginning of August.
In addition to his Hoppers bill, Yost owes property taxes for other properties, Jeffrey said.
The bill for Yost’s failed Cold Creek housing development in Sandusky, including penalties and interest, is about $1.22 million. Yost also owes about $37,500 for a gas station property near Hoppers.