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Task Force for the Homeless pays $600K water bill, avoids shut-off

The Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless paid its nearly $600,000 water bill on Friday, days before the city was scheduled to cut off water to its homeless shelter.

Anita Beaty, head of the Task Force, was flanked by several supporters as she paid the debt inside Atlanta City Hall. Beaty said she raised the money this week from private donors who have pledged ongoing support for future water bills.

“We don’t want to overwhelm you, but we’re very happy,” Beaty said to the cashier receiving the checks. Behind her, supporters chanted “water lady.”

The Task Force received notice in August that it had one month to pay hundreds of thousands in past water debts.

The organization was among nearly 1,000 delinquent commercial accounts the city ordered to pay up, or go dry. Cutoffs to some of those businesses began this week, according to officials with Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.

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Though city officials previously said commercial clients could avoid cut-off if they developed a payment plan, the city rejected a $100,000 payment from Beaty last week, saying it was inadequate after several years of non-payment.

Reed officials have said the Task Force was not eligible for the partial payment option because it had yet to comply with a previous court order to settle past water debt.

Without payment, water would have been cut-off to the Peachtree-Pine shelter in the next five to 10 days, according to the city.

Melissa Mullinax, Reed’s senior adviser, congratulated Beaty and her attorney Steve Hall in an awkward exchange moments after the bill was paid.

“I think it’s terrific they paid their bill, over a half million dollars that taxpayers have subsidized,” Mullinax said, later adding: “Anita said miracles happen every day and I’m glad they got one.”

Beaty previously acknowledged the shelter owes the city money for water, but has disputed the total amount.

According to the city, the Task Force hasn’t paid its bill in several years and until now had not complied with a court order to pay past debts.

The Task Force has been engaged in a protracted legal battle with politicians, business and civic leaders during the past several years. In a lawsuit still under consideration in Fulton Superior Court, the Task Force claims that their opponents conspired to choke off charitable funding to the force in an effort to shut it down.

The Task Force later defaulted on its mortgage and a private investor acquired the shelter. The current lawsuit has blocked the investor from taking possession. A federal judge dismissed a similar lawsuit against the city, ruling the city was immune from the legal action.

This story is developing. For updates, return to AJC.com.

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