06NewsDigestAn audit by TRP CPAs of Fayetteville has found no indication of double billing or a pattern of systematic overbilling by the Fayetteville Public Works Commission. TRP was asked in January by PWC to conduct an audit of AIT billing after AIT’s chairman, Clarence Briggs, publicly accused PWC of double billing AIT. “The Commission was confident that the TRP audit of the AIT billing would confirm fair billing for this account,” said PWC Commission Chairman Wade Fowler. “We believe that TRP’s report validates that PWC’s information was accurate and the AIT claims were unfounded.”

Briggs disagrees, claiming that TRP “is not qualified to conduct utility auditing.” AIT had a unique electricity metering system that was requested by the company in 2000. Because of the arrangement, AIT’s bills were prepared manually. Monthly metering and billing data was collected and calculated for the 10-year period from January 2007 to November 2017, PWC said in a statement.

TRP found several minor clerical errors that had been previously disclosed and credited to AIT. The errors occurred over 100 months of billing and totaled less than $150. TRP certified public accountant Jason Poole found there was no double billing or overbilling. Briggs explained that the unique metering system he once used included electric meters on each floor of his three-story building. And, he said, there was a fourth main meter. He claims that until it was brought to PWC’s attention, all four meter readings were added up together when actually the total of the three separate meters should have equaled the total of the main meter. 

Briggs said as evidence of over billing, AIT’s daily electricity usage has declined from 6,000 to 3,000 kilowatt hours. Briggs has engaged an audit of his own.

“I believe it is important to ... address AIT’s public claims, including one that an independent auditor could not conduct an unbiased investigation,” PWC general manager David Trego said. “This has no merit because a certified public accountant takes an oath to disclose the truth and can lose their license if they do not,” he added.

Trego explained that as a public authority, PWC answers to the U.S. Department of Energy and that customers interested in PWC’s annual reports will be provided a link to them.

City Attorney cites state law in dispute with mayor

Rarely, if ever, in her 17 years has Fayetteville City Attorney Karen McDonald had her understanding of municipal law questioned.

Earlier this month, freshman Mayor Mitch Colvin convinced city council, during an open meeting, that McDonald had not followed proper procedure when awarding contracts to Fayetteville lawyers Billy Richardson and Terry Hutchens. Both attorneys had volunteered to represent the city at no cost in a nationwide lawsuit against opioid distributors.

McDonald cited to Up & Coming Weekly that UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government guidelines for cities states contracts for professional services, such as those with consultants, attorneys and auditors, fall outside the scope of competitive bidding statutes.

Colvin “convinced city council to rescind a lawfully executed contract,” Richardson said in an opinion piece in last week’s Up & Coming Weekly.

Old Street trash barrels gone

It’s been three months since downtown business owners and the city of Fayetteville got rid of the dozen or so garbage cans behind the Blue Moon Café. The trash cans obstructed sidewalk pedestrian traffic in violation of two city ordinances for years. They remained on the sidewalk because “there was no apparent, viable solution to the problem,” said Sam Dubose, general manager of the Cool Spring Downtown District.

Officials identified the Arts Council across Hay Street as the best place to install a couple dumpsters. The city had a so-called trash corral built at a corner of the Arts Council’s rear parking lot, and CSDD contracted with Waste Management for the installation of two dumpsters.

“CSDD had assumed responsibility for the dumpsters,” said Dubose. Now business owners walk across the street, roll the garbage carts around the corner, fill them up, and roll them back to the dumpster site. It took officials a year to figure it all out, but now the roll out carts no longer clutter Old Street.

PWC adopts new electric rates

Fayetteville’s hometown utility buys most of the electricity it distributes from Duke Energy. And now, increased costs of doing business with Duke are partially to blame for a PWC residential rate hike. PWC electricity costs for the next two years will cover Duke increases over which Public Works has little authority.

“Ninety percent of the increase … goes directly to our power supply costs from Duke, and those costs are projected to increase nearly $10 million in the next four years,” said PWC Chairman Wade Fowler. PWC had to add a coal ash fee to customer bills because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allows Duke to recover the cost of cleaning up the multi-billion-dollar environmental disaster it caused when coal ash was dumped into the Dan River.

PWC’s portion of Duke Energy’s $2 billion cleanup expense is estimated to be $60-$70 million. PWC is using reserve accounts to pay most of the money needed along with a $2 monthly charge for PWC residential customers, which will be collected through 2024.

“PWC strives to provide safe and reliable services and maintain reasonable, competitive rates,” said PWC CEO and general manager David Trego. The new rates and the coal ash fee will begin May 1, 2018.


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