The city is angling to overturn a state ruling in hopes of nabbing more than $300,000 beyond what regulators agreed that Connecticut Light & Power owes Bristol for past billing mistakes.
To get the cash, city attorneys and consultants will have to convince Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the state Department of Public Utility Control or a state court to reopen the issue and allow it to make the case that the $86,000 offered by CL&P for streetlight billing errors is inadequate.
“It’s not going to be a quick fix,” said city Councilor Cliff Block.
Municipal Energy, the consultant hired by the city to handle the issue, says it has found more than $400,000 in past billing errors – money it says the taxpayers should get, plus interest that could swell the total.
Mitch Gross, spokesman for the power company, said that after “a very thorough process” that met with the approval of the attorney general and the DPUC, the company issued checks to municipalities that had been overcharged, including Bristol.
Because there had been “some shortcomings in our process” for billing on streetlights, Gross said, “We did what we had to do to clarify the situation.”
“We dug deep into our records to bring this to a conclusion. Regulators were satisfied with our accounting. When we issued checks, we closed the books on this issue,” he said.
What Bristol is aiming for is to convince authorities to reopen the books.
City Councilor Mike Rimcoski said that CL&P demonstrated “very poor bookkeeping and mismanagement” over the years.
The utility “is not a friend of the people” in the way it has handled the entire issue, he said.
“Mike Tyson went to jail for what CL&P is doing to the citizens of Connecticut,” Rimcoski said.
Tyson, a former heavyweight boxing champion, served three years in an Indiana prison following his 1992 conviction for rape.
Gross said he didn’t want to respond to Rimcoski’s comments.
Rimcoski joked that he’ll have to keep a close eye on his electricity bills in the future.
Ken Johnson, president of Municipal Energy, said that the city “has been absolutely wonderful” in its cooperation with his firm to nail down past mistakes on the streetlight billing.
Johnson’s firm represents 50 cities and towns that are challenging CL&P’s refunds. Bristol is one of the first to reach the point where it is ready to make a formal appeal to change the ruling.
Block said that any extra money won’t come for a long time.
The first step, he said, is to convince Blumenthal to side with the municipalities that believe they were shortchanged by the DPUC decision.
“Ultimately, we need to make a very convincing case” that can sway Blumenthal and others to the belief “that CL&P has not provided a full and fair settlement.”
It’s likely to take at least a couple of years to complete the appeal, Johnson said.
Municipal Energy was hired a year and a half ago for $10,000 plus 15 percent of whatever the city earns above $86,000 originally offered by the utility giant.
Bristol has been in the forefront of the fight over streetlight billing because its public works department kept old billing records that showed in detail when lights were installed or removed and how the billing took place.
Few municipalities have anything close to the detail available in Bristol’s records.
Here are a number of reports from Municipal Energy that lay out in detail what's at the root of the controversy. The company's president, Ken Johnson, kindly provided them at my request.
Municipal Energy Report to the Streetlight Committee (April 3, 2008)
Energy's Bristol's Refund Calculation Summary
Municipal Energy New Found Report on March 2, 2008
Municipal Energy New Found Lights (March 7, 2008)
Municipal Energy's New Found spreadsheet
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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