The San Benito, Texas, city water fee ordinance violates a state law that prohibits cities from charging RV parks for water at empty sites, residents at Fun N Sun RV Resort said Tuesday (Dec. 20).
According to a report in the Brownsville Herald, Senate Bill 569 and House Bill 841 require that cities charge RV parks only for water that is used, Bonnie Dominguez, manager at Fun N Sun, said.
An ordinance passed by commissioners in October sets a monthly $10 base fee for water to individual units at RV parks and apartment complexes, and applies to unoccupied spaces at RV parks and to vacant apartments.
On Tuesday, Pete Claudio, chairman of the city’s utility board that recommended the charges, said he was unaware of the law.
After weeks of complaints, officials said they would review the ordinance as it applies to the unoccupied RV sites.
“It’s in black and white. The ball is in their court,” Dominguez said Tuesday. “They’re supposed to only charge for usage, not unoccupied sites.”
Brian Schaeffer, executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), an organization that sponsored a 2011 version of the law known as House Bill 1210, recommended that Dominguez present city officials with the legislation.
“Basically these bills establish state law that RV parks can only be charged for actual usage,” Schaeffer wrote in an e-mail to Dominguez.
“As a result of these laws,” Schaeffer wrote, “we have had cities and water boards stop the practice of individual site billing, particularly phantom billing (empty sites).”
He added that the city “will probably resist and try to make up a number of lame excuses to avoid following the law. We’ve heard them all.”
Fun N Sun residents were outraged to learn that city officials were unaware of the law.
“I think it’s pretty cut and dry. San Benito is in violation of state law,” Ed Jones, a retired teacher who lives at Fun N Sun, said. “The parks are to be charged like any other business. When they add that $10 surcharge it singles out that business. The park cannot be charged for water that it doesn’t use.”
Resident Donald Boyd said the city ordinance has sparked the park’s hottest controversy in years.
“I would say this is the worst thing that’s happened to get people fired up,” Boyd, a retired inventory specialist, said.
Residents are concerned they will be stuck footing the bill at the park whose 1,400 units will be charged a total of $168,000 a year.
Dominguez has said as many as 300 of the park’s sites remain empty year-round because they’re too small for bigger, late-model mobile homes and RVs.
“If the park gets hit paying for empty lots, it’s going to at least pass part of the cost to us,” Boyd said, adding that higher fees could force some Winter Texans to leave parks in San Benito.
“If people feel like they’ve been cheated, they will make adjustments and go elsewhere,” Boyd said. “I think you’ll see people sell out and not come back.”
Boyd warned that some residents could boycott city businesses.
“It’s going to hurt all the business in this part of the Valley because people aren’t going to spend their money,” Boyd said.
The city’s new ordinance would generate about $348,000 a year from the $10 charge for about 2,900 park sites and apartment units, boosting the city’s coffers during a time when the national recession has driven sales taxes to a six-year low, Claudio said.
City officials argue the ordinance makes RV parks and apartment complexes shoulder part of the burden of high water rates that have climbed since 2004. Single-family homes bear the brunt of average monthly base water and sewer fees of $49.68, they said.