At least 20 must pay back charges due to faulty gas meters|[04/14/07]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2007

Vicksburg officials have sent out more than 20 letters to natural gas customers whose meters didn’t register gas usage in recent months. The letters request payment based on a formula the city has used for decades for broken meters, said Strategic Planner Paul Rogers, who buys natural gas for the city to resell through about 10,000 meters.

The estimate is based on the customer’s usage for the unpaid months over a three-year period. But, an ordinance spelling this out has been null until about three weeks ago, said project administrator Tim Smith.

The ordinance customers were referred to is Section 23-57c, which deals with broken water meters. The ordinance says that if a water meter breaks the waterworks will adjust an overcharge on the customer’s bill on the basis of the average bill shown by the next two months’ reading.

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When dealing with broken gas meters, Rogers said the city follows rules determined by the Mississippi Public Works Commission regarding gas.

&#8220It’s a normal business practice. We have a right to go back and estimate, and it’s usually 75 percent of the usage usually,” he said. &#8220This has been our practice for the 30 years I’ve been here.”

Smith said the city decided to make a new ordinance for gas meters in order to make it clear to the public.

&#8220We’re trying to be as fair as possible,” he said. &#8220People traditionally use the same amount of gas if you look back at the years.”

To apply back charges on broken gas meters the same way the city charges for broken water meters would make it unfair to other customers, he added.

&#8220They used the product, they have to pay for it,” he said. &#8220We can’t give it to them for free.”

Part of the reason for a higher-than-usual volume of broken meters this year is due to a bad product by the company from which the city purchases its meters, Smith said.

&#8220We found out that the company made about 3 million meters with a system that could go bad,” he said. &#8220We got 5,000 of the 3-million lot that may potentially go bad. We have 4,000 out of that now. We’re still in the process of changing them out and monitoring them to see who doesn’t show consumption.”

The meters were purchased from Sensus Metering Systems Inc., which is taking the dead meters back based on a warranty.

Tammye Christmas, director of the Water and Gas Administration, who has been sending the letters to customers with broken meters, will work out a three- to five-month payment plan for customers with back charges, Smith said. And, while the lump payment may seem high, the customers may be getting a break, he said.

&#8220I think they’re coming out better because everybody really used more gas (this year),” he said.