Let’s work through a hypothetical, shall we.
Say a city-owned power plant uses a graduated billing structure in which you are charged each month based on how much power you use during each monthly billing cycle. That means the more you use, the higher the rate you are charged. And the city-owned power plant applies that highest rate to all your power, not just the last few hundred kilowatt hours. So if you use, say, 1,500 kilowatt hours, you pay for all of your 1,500 kilowatt hours during that billing cycle at a rate higher than someone who uses 900. Now, say that entire system is built on a month-long billing cycle, but because of various snafus, the city-owned power plant arbitrarily and without warning extends that billing cycle to up to 41 days. And say that extension causes you to use more power and thus pay for all of your power for the cycle at a higher rate than you normally pay. And finally, say the city-owned power company is well aware of this snafu and the extra charges and has no plan to do anything about it. Let’s say all that is true. What do you call that?
Because I’m a dirty blogger, and I have no standards, I’m going to publish first and ask Lakeland Electric to tell me this isn’t what happened in the giant billing snafu. Because if it is, as several sources are telling me, this is abysmal a performance by any government or business on a matter of principle as I’ve ever encountered. And I’m generally not a big Lakeland Electric critic.
The entire point of a graduated rate is to measure during a set period of time. If that time period is fluid and unpredictable, it becomes a license to steal.
Rick Rousos sort of hinted at this in a Ledger story, but didn’t really explain it.
Lakeland Electric says that, aside from the extra money charged to the 63,000 for the extra days, only one additional charge is in some of those bills. That’s the charge of up to $2.50 for customers who used more than either 1,000 or 1,500 kilowatt hours and normally don’t.
Now, I don’t know where that $2.50 comes from, but my various calculations put the extra money extracted from customers at anywhere from $5-$12, based on how much power is used, and which power thresholds they cross. It is difficult to nail down amounts precisely because we’re dealing with baselines that aren’t constant. But clearly, if I understand this correctly, LE is reaching into people’s pocket and pulling out at least $5 because of its own incompetence in billing.
I have to apologize. At first, I tuned out the Lakeland Electric billing scandal. It was complicated; LE tends to get criticized because it’s an easy goverrnment target that has to turn over public records; and, frankly, I figured it wasn’t that big of a deal. So I got billed at 39 days rather than a month. It’s annoying to get a larger bill, but I did use the electricity, and I had a longer time between bills. Pretty small beer as scandals go. But that was before I grasped that LE charges customers at a graduated rate. If LE can’t ensure that its billing periods are constant, it needs to charge at a flat, static rate. Honestly, other than politics, what’s to stop LE from arbitrarily extending the billing period to three months and ensuring that everyone pays for their power at the highest rate?
I could forgive all of this if LE had a plan to fix it – say a $7 credit on everyone’s next bill. But I’m told that people calling LE about this are running into a wall of nothing. There is no plan to do anything with this ill gotten money but add it to the bottom line. Again, tell me this is wrong, LE, because I want to defend you. You are the engine that makes this city go. You pay for its parks; you pay for the our quality of life in many ways.
Say it ain’t so.