This is one golf course debate that is dragging on well past the 18th green.
City of Lawrence officials have agreed to write off $65,000 worth of water bills that they contend Alvamar Country Club and Lawrence Country Club were not properly billed for during a multiyear stretch.
But neither club has agreed to a settlement with the city, which contends the two golf courses still owe a total of $260,000 for water that was used but not properly billed by the city.
“We’re still optimistic that we’ll be able to reach some type of agreement with the clubs,” Assistant City Manager Cynthia Wagner said. “The situation obviously is unfortunate, but we’re still very much in the mode of trying to work with them on this.”
The Journal-World in June reported that the city had discovered that Alvamar Country Club was underbilled by about $240,000 for water usage from September 2008 to October 2011. The city contends Lawrence Country Club was underbilled by about $85,000 from January 2009 to September 2011.
Wagner on Wednesday said the city has since had discussions with both clubs and has agreed to reduce Alvamar’s total to $200,000 and Lawrence Country Club’s total to $60,000.
Neither club, however, has accepted those amounts, Wagner said. Attempts to reach representatives with Alvamar Country Club and Lawrence Country Club were not successful Wednesday.
The city recently hired an outside auditor, Lawrence-based Mize Houser & Company, to review the city’s numbers. Wagner said the auditing firm concluded the city’s calculations were correct, but the golf courses still have unresolved questions about whether there were mechanical issues with the city’s water meters that have led to inaccurate totals from the city.
Wagner said the city is reviewing those issues currently.
At the moment, the city thinks the problems began when the city switched the golf course’s water meters from a manually read meter to a meter that is read remotely with equipment that monitors radio waves that emanate from the meter.
Wagner said the city currently believes a coding issue in the city’s billing system caused a digit to be dropped from the water totals measured by the meters.
“Instead of reading 130,000 gallons for example, it might show 13,000 gallons,” Wagner said. “We believe it was off by a factor of 10, at times.”
But the issue at Lawrence Country Club, in particular, becomes cloudy. Wagner said the time period the city was experiencing the billing issues coincides with a time that Lawrence Country Club added its own irrigation ponds in an effort to reduce city water usage. Country club members have contended that is why the course’s city water usage dropped dramatically.
There are signs that the water bill issue is creating budget concerns at Lawrence Country Club. The club recently sent members a letter notifying them of a special assessment that would be added to membership dues. The assessment, the letter said, would help pay for future water bills that are likely to be higher than budgeted.
Wagner said she expects the city will have its review of any mechanical issues with the meters completed in the next couple of weeks. She said the city then would approach the country clubs again to address the issue.
Wagner said the city — as it was in June — is confident that other water users were not underbilled by the city. She said the city conducted a review of its largest water users and those that use the remote-control-read meters and found no issues.
Wagner said the city’s policy is to try to collect on past water usage, even if the billing issue is the result of an error on the city’s part. City officials have said to not collect on the past water usage would be unfair to the other ratepayers in the city’s utility system.
“We just feel that it is important to properly bill for water that has been used,” Wagner said.