The City of Minden overbilled J.E. Harper Elementary for more than $200,000 worth of electricity during a 10-month period.
The billing error was recently caught by school district officials, which resulted in the city repaying the district in the amount of $201,373.
“This spring when (Crevonne Odom, director Of business and finance) was preparing her budget revisions, she discovered the average of the bills to be extremly high.”
Rowland said he was glad the error could be caught and the city was about to reimberurse the district.
Copies of Harper Elementary School’s utility bills, obtained through a public records request, show the school’s total utility bill – which includes electricity, water and sewage – in April 2016 was $3,982. In May 2016, the total bill was $5,632.87 and June 2016 was at a cost of $5,083.
In July 2016, the bill spiked to $25,024, only $35 of that amount was for water and sewage. Bills ranged from $25,000 to $31,000 each of the remaining months of 2016 and through April 2017.
“If you remember that was about the time some utility bills were extremely high in some cases,” Rowland said. “The school had just gotten a new meter around that time and the district thought the increase in the bill was thought to be the same problem as other residents were having with higher bills.”
The cause of the problem was reportedly the result of the incorrect rating factor, used as part of the equation to determine the electricity cost, was entered into the city’s computer system. When the factor should have been entered as 0.48, it was reportedly entered at 4.8 for the school’s account.
“It was human error and has been fixed,” Minden Mayor Tommy Davis said.
The new electronic meters the city recently installed citywide is expected to cut down on human error, Davis said.
“With the new automated meters, the data is entered into the computer automatically,” he said, but was unaware if the correct factoring numbers were correctly entered into all electricity accounts.
As for the reimbursement to the school district, Davis said the payment shouldn’t affect the city budget and was paid out of the electricity account.
Higher than normal utility bills sparked public outcry in 2016. City officials blame the 20-year electricity contract with SWEPCO for the high rates.
Last year, the city hired Washington D.C. based law firm, Betts & Holt, LLP, which specializes in energy contracts, to investigate the legality of additional charges and possibly changing the contract with SWEPCO.
When asked about the progress of any negotiations with the electricity contract Thursday, Davis said the process is moving slowly.