Last week, many Fort Myers Beach readers logged into their Florida Power & Light accounts to see they had been given credits of astonishing amounts – anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 was reported to us. But before anyone could get too excited over the prospect of not having to pay a power bill for a couple of years, the bills were adjusted downward to credits of $40 – $60 and the due dates pushed forward a couple of weeks. So what happened?
One Sand Paper staffer’s bill was adjusted down from $136 to $97, after receiving an initial ‘credit’ of $5,001.75. On the bottom right of the bill was the following message:
“We mistakenly overcharged you municipal tax. You are receiving a refund credit as a result. We apologize for the mistake. It has since been corrected in our system.”
In October of 2011, Town Council passed a 10% Public Service Tax, which began appearing on residents’ power bills in April of 2012. That tax exempted fuel charges and the first 200 kilowatt hours from the amount being taxed – which is where FPL made an accounting error.
“We apologize to our customers and to the Town of Fort Myers Beach for our mistake,” said FPL Representative Bill Orlov. “When the Town passed the ordinance for the tax, we collected it and passed the money on to the Town. But this summer we realized there was an error in our system – we had not been exempting the first 200 kilowatt hours when determining how much each customer was being charged.”
Orlov explained that FPL accountants determined a method in which to refund customers for what they’d overpaid since 2012, which amounted to between 1 cent and $1.43 per month.
“The refunds were added up and showed up on the current electric bills as a credit,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we did our part to make this right, so the credit was issued per address depending on how much was overpaid.”
So, if the residents overpaid, did that mean the Town received too much money from FPL? The answer is yes, to the tune of $450,000.
“My understanding is that about $450,000 was mistakenly collected from our customers, then paid to the Town,” Orlov said. “We’re refunded our customers, now we need to go back to the Town to see if we’re going to subtract that amount from future payments to them or what their payment options are.”
Orlov told us that FPL first met with Town leaders in July to advise them of the error that had been made.
“The company has discussed payment options with the Town, but has not yet received any direction regarding the timing of the payment,” he said.
Town Manager Don Stilwell told us that, as far he is concerned, it’s FPL’s problem.
“Since we passed the ordinance for this tax, every month FPL sent us the proceeds with a letter saying they’d been certified and audited that it was the correct amount,” he said. “We trusted them. We are a very small town, with a small budget – this was their mistake and we had nothing to do with it.”
Stilwell said that all towns, large businesses and corporations carry something called ‘errors and omissions’ insurance for circumstances like this one.
“That exists to cover mistakes,” he said. “In my opinion, and the Town Council and Town Attorney agree, we – the Town – should not have to cover this. We received a certified letter from them this week, and our attorney is now crafting one to send back to them explaining this.”
“We want to do what’s right – but we have to protect the Town.”
Keri Hendry Weeg