BARSTOW — A feud over unpaid sewer fees that goes back 40 years between the city and a family living on Riverside Drive took a turn for the worse Monday when city officials were accused of lying.
"I don't know if I can trust anyone within the city. Any of the leaders," Virginia Brown said. She spoke during Monday's City Council meeting public comment period. "We were lied to."
Despite paying sewer fees for 35 years, the Brown family discovered a year ago that their house at Riverside Drive and Yucca Road was connected to septic tank and never connected to the city's sewer line. City workers uncovered a "missing" manhole cover. The workers then conducted tests that revealed the house was not connected to the sewer line.
In 2010, the Browns learned that the city and county had placed liens on the property for unpaid sewer fees. Jim and Virginia Brown had just moved back into the house and found out the fees were not paid for years after the death of Jim Brown's father, Obadiah Brown. The Browns say the bills were going to a wrong address.
With interest and penalties, the Browns owed about $14,000. Virginia Brown ended up getting a loan to pay off the unpaid fees and penalties.
Further research by the family also discovered that the city may have wrongly seized family land to reroute Riverside Drive.
"In researching everything we also found out there were several parcels of land we had owned at one time. At some point in '66, an illegal deed was given to the city to put in a road and sewer system through our property that cut the parcels in half," Virginia Brown said.
"When the city did this, the city returned the second parcel to the prior owner. When she passed away, this land was sold in her estate. If we had not discovered the fact that we did not have sewer, we would have not researched our land and found this."
Brown explained that all the researched documents have been turned over to the city and it made an offer on a portion of the sewer dispute.
"Now mind you, the portion is not even part of what we paid last year alone. Let alone the last four years," Virginia Brown said. "My husband and I were still willing to work with the city at this point, but since then we have come to decide we are not sure we can trust the city because were told at a (City Council) meeting, Mr. Harpole, that you directed to take us off the lien sale list. We found out Friday that was not done. We are still on the list.
"Even while the city owed us money and had taken land, and not trying to make it right, they left us on the lien sale list after you directed them to take us off."
Virginia Brown said in a meeting with City Manager Curt Mitchell, an offer was made of a small amount of money. She said if the family agreed to the terms, the lien would be taken off the property. The home is now connected to the sewer line, but the family has not paid any fees since January. The family is waiting for a settlement with the city.
Jim Brown said Friday that he and wife have a scheduled meeting with the city on Monday.
"I feel like we have been blackmailed," Virginia Brown said. "We have no problem accepting the small amount of money, but when I hear that blatantly I stood here and you (Harpole) told Ms. (Belinda) Barbour (Barstow Contract Administrator for Environmental Services) to remove us from the list, and she said she would, and we were not removed.
"It hurts me and upsets me," Virginia Brown said. "Your city manager told us that he can not justify making this right all the way. That every dime we gave we can't get back, because he couldn't justify giving it back.
"So I'm asking tonight if he can't justify doing what is right, so how do any of you justify doing what is wrong?"
Barbour followed Brown to the podium said she wanted to correct Virginia Brown's comments.
"The last lien sale, they were not on the lien list. So there was nothing to remove," Barbour said.
Harpole responded to the issue during the comment period for City Council members.
"Her (Virginia Brown) comments concerning the lien list — that's the first I and the rest of the Council heard of their lien list issue since the last time we talked about this issue as she indicated," Harpole said. "I'm sure Mr. Mitchell and I will have a conversation about this in the near future and hopefully we can come to some kind of solution."
Mike Lamb can be reached at 760-957-0613 or email@example.com. You can also follow him Twitter @mlambdispatch