The long fought public battle over the area getting water, after being left holding the bag for a huge water bill, will soon reach another level. The $21,712.85 bill will be paid by the Property Owners Association in agreement with the city of Hardy. Hardy Mayor Thornton said the property owners have kept in contact with the city throughout the ordeal. Currently, the owners are waiting to see that the water lines are functional before paying the bill that will insure their service is restored.
Many owners told Thornton that they had, in fact paid their water bills to Clifton Johnson, whose name was signed on behalf of Biggers Bluff Water Corporation as the responsible party for the bill, and he had not paid the city for the water charges. The River bend issue goes far deeper than the huge water bill, as it has gained much media attention due to the lawsuits against real estate developer Wayne Watkins. Many believe Watkins is hiding in Mexico, after he was charged with theft by receiving, charges that stem from selling property to park owners when he did not possess the deed. The group paid the bill and a $5,000 deposit to the city of Hardy, ensuring the water service will be restored to residents in the park.
Thornton said that area resident Virgil Griffin said he has a deed to the water system and agreed to pay the deposit and get the water back to the residents so they can once again enjoy the area. Thornton said the water was cut off to the park and 10 residences on Oct. 21, 2008 after the bill became extremely past due. She said everyone was notified and the meter was read at that time and locked. Thornton said the city tried to work with the Bigger's Bluff Water Corporation, after the bill was over $16,000 past due, to no avail. Thornton said the city still gave Johnson another month to pay the bill. She said they didn't want to turn the water off to the park, but explained that it is a state law that a city cannot give free utilities. She said after the month was up, she, as mayor of the city, took the matter to council, who voted unanimously to shut off the water to River bend Park. She said council further voted that in the future a person would have to sign to be responsible as well as paying a $5,000 deposit; this was the amount of an average monthly bill to the area. Virgil Griffin signed as the responsible party for the bill and further agreed to sign a three year contract with the city.
Thornton explained that the city of Hardy was still in the process of trying to secure grants for a new water system for the area and to annex the area into the city. This, she said, would be in the best interest of the city. As Hardy will be providing water to the park, it is only fair that the city should get something back. Many of the residents who live in the homes on the road going to the park have since had wells drilled on their property.
Thornton said Griffin said property owners were currently in the process of meeting with their lawyers. "They have a three year agreement with the city; they will pay him and he will pay the bill." She further explained that there was a water line up the hill by Nathan and Renee Clay Circle's new home that was broken under their concrete slab. She said the city is in the process of rerouting that portion of the water line. She said the city has never had any problem with the property owners, other than simply the bill was not paid. She further stated, "They are going to have water very soon."
Thornton went on to discuss reasons why the city did not directly sue Wayne Watkins. She said the park is not in the city limits of Hardy, but the water does come through Hardy. She said the city found out how many lawsuits there were against Watkins and Hardy didn't want to do that, because there were already too many people suing him. She said once the lawsuits are resolved against Watkins, the property owners can get their money from him; it is theirs, because the city has no judgment against him. The mayor also said she has written a letter to Dustin McDaniel and others informing them of her intent to get a grant to get water.
She said by the time the three year contract is up with Griffin, it is her hope that the grant and new water system will be fully operational. Thornton said, at that time Griffin will sign the deed for the water system over to the city of Hardy.