Here’s betting you haven’t lost this much money on a local golf course.
City of Lawrence officials are contending a multi-year, meter-reading mix-up resulted in Alvamar Country Club and the Lawrence Country Club being underbilled for water usage to the tune of $325,000.
City Manager David Corliss confirmed Wednesday the city has begun working to collect the amounts that the city did not properly bill to the golf courses. Corliss also confirmed the two country clubs disagree with the city’s new figures and the matter is in dispute.
“We’re trying to get all the facts and be fair to everyone involved,” Corliss said.
Attempts to reach representatives with the Alvamar Country Club and the Lawrence Country Club weren’t successful on Wednesday afternoon.
Corliss said city officials late last year began investigating what seemed like odd numbers being billed to the Alvamar Country Club. The club in some cases was using water at a rate that was only half of its historical average, said Ed Mullins, the city’s director of finance who oversees utility billing.
City crews began checking the meter at Alvamar and discovered there had been a breakdown in the technology that transfers the information from the digital meter to the city’s billing software. Mullins said city officials determined the proper number of digits was not being transferred into the billing system.
At that point, Corliss said he ordered a review of the meter data for the city’s largest water customers, such as Kansas University, industrial users and wholesale customers such as Baldwin City and various rural water districts.
During the course of that review, the city found a similar breakdown had occurred with the meter at the Lawrence Country Club. The city now contends Alvamar was underbilled by about $240,000 from September 2008 to October 2011. The Lawrence Country Club, the city contends, was underbilled by about $85,000 from January 2009 to September 2011.
The meters in question were special digital meters that were read using radio frequencies. City employees could drive by the meter and have the data downloaded into the city system through a radio frequency. Of the 30,000 meters operated by the city, about 2,000 are of the radio variety, Mullins said.
Mullins, though, said the two meters at the country club shared a similarity in that the meter and the transmitter were made by two different companies. That’s not the case with most of the city’s radio-operated meters. The city didn’t have an estimate of how many meters fall into that category.
Corliss said the city did not find any other meter discrepancies when it reviewed the readings from its largest customers. Mullins said the nature of the problem makes it unlikely meters of smaller users were read improperly.
Corliss said the city would work with any customer who has a concern about the accuracy of a water meter, although the technological problem hasn’t been linked to any customers being overcharged for water.
“We are more than happy to go out and talk to customers individually and show them how we can test the accuracy of their meters,” Corliss said.
Corliss said the city investigated the matter to determine if there was any sign of fraud related to the string of incorrect meter readings.
“We didn’t see anything other than it was just a technical error in the reading,” Corliss said.
Corliss said the city will continue to engage the two country clubs in discussions and try to reach a negotiated settlement. He said he likely will refer the matter to the City Commission for a decision on what type of settlement commissioners believe would be appropriate.