LIME CITY – Anger about swollen water bills at Friendly Village manufactured home park boiled over as
nearly 200 residents confronted those they felt responsible for higher rates Sunday evening.
"Let’s take our community back," shouted resident Raymond Scott to the audience of his
neighbors, suggesting that they pool forces and hire an attorney. "Let’s all stick together."
The meeting was called by State Rep. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, and Wood County Commissioner Tim
Brown, who found out about the ballooned water rates inadvertently during a forum they hosted earlier
this month on water issues. In an effort to answer questions about the new rates, they invited
representatives of Choice Properties, which owns manufactured home parks with 584 units on Oregon Road,
and Universal Utilities, which recently took over the billing for water and sewer in the community.
"I know some of you are really, really not happy," Gardner said, sympathizing with the
residents who saw their water bills as much as triple recently. Some single residents saw their bills
jump from $30 to $90 a month.
Though Gardner and Brown tried to keep the crowd quiet enough to hear answers to their questions, the
meeting frequently erupted into choruses of "boos" from the residents and individual shouts of
disbelief questioning the honesty of the park and billing officials.
Toward the end of the meeting, Perrysburg Township police provided an escort to his vehicle for Bob
Weaver, regional vice president for Choice Properties.
Weaver had defended the rate hikes, saying Choice Properties had discovered it had been undercharging
residents for years.
"We’ve been losing a lot of money for water and sewer," he said.
When questioned why the minimum base rate for water seemed to jump from $1.20 to $33 a month, Weaver said
his firm actually discovered last week that the new rate should be $28.32.
"We didn’t realize that was too high," he said, being drowned out by angry residents.
Tom Castle, general manager of Universal Utilities, tried to convince the crowd that there was "no
malice" in the setting of the new rates. He said the losses being eaten by Choice Properties before
the rate hike were "staggering," which again was met by groans of disbelief by the residents.
"I think they want to know what is your actual real cost," Gardner said, adding that the
neighbors don’t believe Choice Properties had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"We want the truth," a resident shouted.
But Castle’s data did not satisfy the hostile crowd.
"Our company has no intention of deceive," Castle said. "The intent of our company is to
provide accurate billing."
When asked if Choice Properties was making a profit from the water and sewer rates, Weaver denied his
company was making money.
"No, we don’t feel that we are," he said – again being overpowered by shouts of doubt by the
audience. "All we’re trying to do is close the gap between our expenses and revenue."
Gardner said that some residents suspect the park management is trying to make up for the cost of empty
lots with the new utility rates.
"Absolutely not," Weaver responded.
Others accused Choice Properties of "blackmail" by coercing residents to sign three-year leases
to guarantee lot rates amidst the rising water rates.
Weaver defended that process. "We thought that would give some security to the homeowners."
Many questioned if the new billing company even reads their meters, since residents with varying water
usages had similar bills. Castle said the frequency system meters are read with transmitters.
Though residents remained frustrated after Sunday’s meeting, Brown said Choice Properties and Universal
Utilities got the message that the homeowners mean business.
"You’ve got a lot of people here who would pack up and leave if they could," Brown told Weaver.
"I think they are starting to get the message."
Gardner and Brown assured the residents that they wouldn’t be giving up on the issue. They plan to meet
again with the management and legal counsel. Among other issues, they will discuss a credit for the
overcharged rates, and ask about income-based and senior discounts.
Some residents were ready to put their rent in escrow until the issue was resolved.
"We can’t advise you to do that," Brown cautioned.