CRESTVIEW — A nearly $1 million refund for overpayment of street lighting bills since March 2006 is on hold until city attorney Jerry Miller is consulted to see if Gulf Power owes more money.
An August report in the News Bulletin led to the electric utility working with the city to determine the amount Crestview had been overbilled.
City Public Works Director Wayne Steele reported at the time a discrepancy had been found between the number of street lights for which Gulf Power charged the city and the number of lights a Public Works survey identified.
Steele said the electric utility immediately worked with the city to reconcile the discrepancy. He said Gulf Power determined it overbilled Crestview $961,252.
"In mid-October, a keying error was discovered to have occurred in March 2006," a Dec. 11 letter from Gulf Power Lighting Services supervisor Kenneth Folsom to City Clerk Betsy Roy stated.
Folsom stated in his letter that instead of adding two new "cobra head" fixtures to Crestview's inventory, the total number of fixtures, 1,336, was accidentally entered, doubling the number of street lights for which the city was billed.
At a special meeting of the City Council on Dec. 16, Steele proposed spending slightly less than $150,000 of the refund to relieve city employees of 32 furlough hours per person this fiscal year.
The proposal places $200,000 in the street repair budget, while the $612,424 balance would go to the general fund reserve account.
Steele's proposal was immediately supported by a motion by Councilman Mickey Rytman, seconded by Councilman Joe Blocker.
Council President Robyn Helt asked if anyone had consulted with city attorney Jerry Miller regarding the refund for the "egregious overcharging."
"Seven years without the (taxpayers') use of close to a million dollars, have they (Gulf Power) factored in any interest for the fact that they did overcharge?" Helt asked.
Rytman and Blocker then withdrew their motions, while Roy agreed that she would consult with Miller.
Helt also used the opportunity to renew her call for a city manager form of government to provide more oversight of city finances.
"We just raised the taxpayers' millage rate and asked them to give us additional funds, and here's a million dollars we had spent and didn't know," Helt said.
"How can we be assured we're not overpaying for other utilities and other services?"
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.