FL - Billing Errors on Sewer Bills Cost City $53,000

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Billing errors on sewer bills cost city $53,000

By BRITTANY WALLMAN Web-posted: 11:03 p.m. May 17, 2000

FORT LAUDERDALE -- A series of mistakes in billing 450 homeowners for a sewer project will cost taxpayers citywide $53,000.

The botched notices were sent to Tarpon River residents for a $2.5 million central sewer system that was recently completed. Residents have received three notices -- some too high, some too low -- and will get another one next week.

City officials said they were embarrassed and disgusted, and they refused to ask residents who were undercharged to pay the full amount.

Commissioners agreed 3-2, with Commissioners Gloria Katz and Carlton Moore dissenting, to let taxpayers citywide absorb the $53,000 mistake, giving a break to some homeowners because of the city's mistake.

The 139 homeowners who were underbilled won't have to pay their true charge. The 311 who were overcharged will be refunded.

"We have egg on our face," Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson said. "We didn't do it once. We did it three times. I'm pretty disgusted with that and I think we need to find a way to correct this."

Commissioner Tim Smith agreed. "We need to keep our integrity intact and the trust these people have in us to watch over the bills we send them."

City officials said they used property data from Florida Power & Light for their calculations, and it wasn't exact enough. When distribution and collection manager Mike Bailey went to fix it, some columns of information were improperly merged, and the "corrected" notices were wrong, too. A third notice went out after that, but for some people with wet lots, the bill could be overcalculated.

City officials promised to send a final bill, with an explanation, early next week.

Katz thought it would invite lawsuits because the assessments are no longer equitable. "The whole entire city trusts us not to get in a legal situation where we're putting our city and the finances at risk, and I think that's what we're doing."

City attorney Dennis Lyles had the same concern, but said using general fund money, as a claim settlement, was safer than using money from the sewer fund. The solution didn't sit well with everyone.

"My taxes went into that general fund, so I don't think that's fair," said Gil Medeiros, who lives in Tarpon River, just southwest of downtown. He told commissioners he scrimped and saved for his $70,000 home on Southwest 10th Street and could barely afford the sewer assessment.

Some homeowners on the water who were overcharged for submerged land should call Bailey at 954-492-7809. The contingency fund, used for emergencies, is part of the general fund. Property taxes make up a third of it. Brittany Wallman can be reached at bwallman@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4541. http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/daily/detail/0,1136,31500000000114308,00.html


-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), May 22, 2000

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