Last November, after beach residents who logged into their Florida Power & Light accounts began noticing astonishing credit balances, the Sand Paper investigated and discovered that islanders had been mistakenly overcharged for the Town’s municipal services tax. FP&L staff quickly re-adjusted their customers’ bills downward anywhere from $40 to $60 (the $3,000 to $5,000 amounts originally reported were found to be miscalculated), and we were told that the entire thing was the result of an accounting error – one that Town staff claimed to be the fault of the power company, not the Town. We checked with Town Administrative Services Director Maureen Rischitelli to find out that conflict worked out.
In October of 2011, Town Council passed a 10% Public Service Tax, which began appearing on residents’ power bills in April 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’ve 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.”
Last November, former Town Manager Don Stilwell told us that, as far he was 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.”
However, things did not exactly work out that way. This week Rischitelli told us that – to pay themselves back for the refund it granted its customers – FP&L has been deducting a little bit from what it pays the Town each quarter from the money it collects for the tax.
“They deduct $12,700 from every payment they make to us until the $450,000 is paid back to them,” Maureen said. “While it was ultimately determined to be their mistake, under Florida statute they are within their legal rights to reclaim the money.”
To prevent something like this from happening again, Rischitelli assured us that the Town is keeping a close eye on the money FP&L collects.
“We have been auditing them, and they are doing their due diligence,” she said.
Keri Hendry Weeg