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Richmond to forgive $3.3(m) in utility fees owed by schools

February 9, 2020 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney says he will forgive $3.3 million in utility fees the city has been trying to collect from Richmond Public Schools for years.

Stoney announced the decision last week at a meeting of school and city officials. He said the city will continue to levy stormwater charges on the school system’s more than 50 properties. School leaders said they appreciated the gesture, but object to continued bills.

“We need to have discussions about why it makes sense for us to keep doing that moving forward,” said Second District School Board member Scott Barlow. “It’s sort of a unique issue we’re dealing with here and I wouldn’t consider the whole matter resolved.”

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The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the dispute centers on a complicated ownership structure for the properties that Superintendent Jason Kamras has called a “legal no-man’s land.” The school system is responsible for its buildings, but does not hold the legal title to them that would convey full ownership.

The lack of full ownership weakens the system’s bargaining position when off-loading properties it no longer needs or wants.

The fees are used to pay for infrastructure maintenance and prevent runoff from making its way into the James River.

The school system began paying the bills last year after past administrations allowed the past-due total to swell over a decade.

“Instead of rehashing the past, we’re looking to a more fruitful future and that means schools that live up to their obligation, and we’re here to hold them accountable for that,” Stoney said.

“It’s a huge gesture of goodwill,” Kamras said, of the compromise Stoney announced and plans to work more closely on development plans.

Despite Stoney’s announcement, some board members said they wouldn’t be surprised if the issue came up again.