TIMELINE: OVERCHARGES BEGAN JUNE 2015
In June 2015 Mayor Curtis Hardwick instructed a city employee to charge the city’s gas customers an additional $8,288 a month, billed based on the number of gas units each customer used.
The city had been charged that amount previously as a transportation cost but it was not an ongoing monthly charge. The city’s ordinance specifically states that gas customers are charged actual costs plus a set fee, so the additional charge violated the ordinance.
By the time an auditor discovered the charge, the city had overcharged customers a total of $107,749.43 during a 13-month period. The city discontinued the charge in July 2016.
When the overcharge was identified, Hardwick instructed staff to begin reimbursing current gas customers based on current rates and units used. He did not notify the public of the overcharge or the reimbursement plan.
The overcharge was announced during the monthly City Council meeting in January by auditor Brent Billingsley.
Hardwick said during the meeting in January that he made a mistake and had not read the ordinance. When asked why he had not informed citizens of the error when it was discovered, he said he waited for the auditor to explain the error during the audit presentation at the council meeting.
Customers didn’t notice the repayments because they were not reflected on bills. Employee Ann Marie Austin said the billing program would not allow the city to reflect a credit to customers but that the reimbursement is deducted from the unit fee charged on each bill. Hardwick said reimbursements would be complete with the March billing.
Billingsley, the auditor, told the council that reimbursing current customers instead of customers who actually paid the overcharge is an acceptable practice for utility companies.
This past month, the Community Voice learned that Hardwick had approved a check in January of $10.45 to one former customer but did not inform council members. After questioning about the single reimbursement, Hardwick said last week he intends to ask the council to approve a plan to pay past customers if they request reimbursement.
- JUNE 2015 — Mayor Curtis Hardwick authorized the city to begin charging gas customers an excess transportation fee of more than $8,200 a month. The charge continued until July 2016, totaling 107,749.43 for the city’s gas department.
- OCTOBER 2016 — After an auditor identified the excess charge, the city began paying back current customers by reducing their billed amount. Bills did not reflect the reimbursement.
- JANUARY 2, 2017 — Auditor Brent Billingsley of Campbell, Myers and Ruthledge PLLC, presented the city’s audit during the monthly city council meeting and made everyone aware of the six-figure overcharge. Mayor Hardwick apologized to the council and took full responsibility for the violation. Hardwick told the council that current customers were receiving the reimbursement, which is an acceptable practice for utility companies.
- JANUARY 27, 2017 — Mayor Hardwick authorized a check of $10.45 to one former customer of the gas company. The total was the amount the customer was overcharged that had not been paid back. This is contrary to the information Hardwick gave council members in January and again in February, when he said only current customers would benefit from the reimbursement.