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Amount overcharged on sewer bills around $4 million

By Staff | Feb 8, 2010

Cape Coral city staff is estimating that $4.1 million will have to be refunded to those who were overcharged on their sewer bills between 2005 and early 2010.
City Manger Carl Schwing said the number was “approximate,” and the final number is expected to be less.
“These are approximate numbers that are expected to go down but provide some perspective on the magnitude of the issue,” Schwing wrote in an e-mail to City Council.
According to the e-mail, $3.3 million of that total figure were accounts in good standing, and $800,000 where liens were placed on accounts with outstanding balances.
While the finalized number is still being tweaked, staff will also have to come up with a way to refund those overages.
But there’s one council member who’s not convinced the money should be refunded at all.
Bill Deile said the interpretation of the resolution’s language was key, and that he can’t make a solid decision until he sees more solid information.
“I don’t think we’ve generated all the facts yet,” he said. “I would like to be on firm ground no matter what we do.”
Deile suggested that refunds could be used toward future payments, but warned that refunds could lead to higher rates for those same payers.
“The refund we give with one hand we may have to take back with the other one by raising the rates,” Deile added.
Since 2005, 143,366 residential, 3,656 duplex and 3,812 multi-family accounts that used more than 10,000 gallons of water were overcharged, according to Carl Schwing two weeks ago.
Schwing previously said there was some confusion about the figure since that overcharge information became public, and that the number represents the amount of billings over the 5-year period.
He said the city, on average, sends out 50,000 billings per month, which equates to over 3 million billings over the 5-year period.
The 143,366 residential billings represents less than 5 percent of the total billings, according to Schwing.

Other items
City Council is still slogging through its city manager search methodology, deciding to focus geographically on the southeast for potential candidates.
The next permanent city manager could hail from Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas, or it could be Schwing, who will likely continue in the post through this year’s budget cycle in the least.
Councilmember Derrick Donnell urged his fellow council members to set a firm timetable on the decision, in order too keep the process moving. Donnell also supported a national search.
“If we find a city manager, then we need to have them in place by the end of the calendar year,” Donnell said.
In addition, city council decided to put out a request for qualifications for a potential labor negotiator.
Mayor John Sullivan previously said he was in favor of a part-time, hourly employee with no benefits who would report directly to City Council, maybe a “retiree” that was already living in Cape Coral.
There was some question as to whether that would violate the city charter, but Sullivan said he was “flexible” when it came to the position, and that at the very least he’d like to see council have some input over the hiring process..
City Council also decided not to pursue a citizen survey, saving $10,000 in the process.
Council will probably address the survey again sometime in the future, but that decision, and subsequent start date, is still up in the air.