City eats water billSeptember 19th, 2012 by Chris Henry
The city of Port Orchard is checking its roughly 6,000 water meters for accuracy after settling a dispute with the company that runs McCormick Woods Golf Course.
The city recently agreed to waive $780.16 in water fees that the public works department failed to properly record in 2010 and 2011. The undercharges came to the attention of the city’s utility committee this summer, when golf course manager Shawn Cucciardi attended their August meeting to ask about his bill. For reasons not clear in the staff report, C&M Golf LLC was overcharged by about $60 for water used so far in 2012.
The under-billing errors originated after a fire at the golf course in 2009, a suspected arson that destroyed numerous vehicles and equipment at the cart barn. The golf course requested a “service meter upsizing” with the new meter drop, but the new meter was improperly calibrated on installation.
The city has three types of meters that all look alike, Public Works Director Mark Dorsey explained. Without checking the serial numbers, it is possible for the worker installing the meter to incorrectly calibrate the system, he said. The McCormick Woods meter read the correct amount of water being used, but the correct usage was not picked up by public works employees’ meter reading equipment.
The city undercharged the golf club by $840.52. The utility committee, in its recommendation, subtracted the overcharge of $60.39 to arrive at the $780.16 figure. Chairman Rob Putaansuu said he felt like it was a fair resolution. John Clauson, a committee member, agreed.
“This was an error on our part,” Clauson said. “It took a long time for us to discover this error. … It certainly is our fault. It is the right thing to do.”
Mayor Tim Matthes and Councilman Fred Chang weren’t so sure. Matthes said that the statute of limitations on incorrect bills is six years. “We have the responsibility to capture that,” he said, adding that waiving the fee could set an unwanted precedent.
City Attorney Greg Jacoby corrected the mayor, saying the city has the option to collect, which expires after six years. But the city is not obliged by law to collect the money.
Chang said the amount of water consumed (and its value) was a substantial hit to the utility. “We’re not just your average service oriented company,” he said.
Chang said at the least the city should establish a consistent policy if other under-billings are discovered during the city-wide meter check. (None have been discovered so far.) Other council members agreed on this point but over-rode Chang, who alone voted against waiving the 2010 and 2011 fees.