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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

FPL could owe Island cities big bucks

Anna Maria City Commissioner Duke Miller says the city should reexamine its monthly power bill with Florida Power & Light Co., particularly in view of the discovery of an FPL accounting error that returned $23,000 to the Tingley Memorial Library in Bradenton Beach (The Islander, Nov. 26).

Miller raised the issue of the FPL bill to Anna Maria at a city commission meeting this past summer when he learned the company was charging the city about $1,900 a month just to power the street lights in the city.

At the same meeting, commissioners were informed by Anna Maria City Clerk Alice Baird that the City of Pahokee near West Palm Beach planned to file a $10 million lawsuit against FPL after an independent audit of FPL accounting procedures revealed the overcharges, primarily from the complicated formula FPL uses to determine rates for street lighting.

Anna Maria was asked by the same independent auditing firm if it wanted an audit of its FPL accounts, said Miller, but nothing ever came of it.

"As I understand it, the city was going to look into having the audit done and something was going to come back for commission discussion, but we never heard back from the mayor," said Miller. "I think we need to revisit this issue because I'm not satisfied we're getting a fair deal."

The auditing company, A-Net Energy of West Palm Beach, said if Anna Maria had a separate street-lighting bill each month from FPL, it could have been overcharged as much as $100,000 the past 10 years. The company wanted $2,500 to conduct the audit for Anna Maria.

A-Net president David A.L. Smith said his company works exclusively with small municipal governments on reducing their utility charges or determining if overcharges have occurred.

As an example, Smith said a recent audit of the City of Islamorada's FPL accounts revealed that because FPL owns the street lights, not the city, Islamorada pays 928 percent more per month in electricity for those lights.

"FPL doesn't tell the city that it can own its own street lights," said Smith. "In addition, the tariff (rate) and maintenance fees FPL charges for street lighting is extremely complicated and overcharges have occurred."

Mayor SueLynn said she had discussed the audit proposal with City Attorney Jim Dye at that time, but he had indicated it seemed to have little value for the city.

"But in view of the Tingley Library refund, this is something I'm going to ask the commission to revisit," she added.

Anna Maria paid $2,025 to FPL for electricity in October 2003, of which $1,845 (91 percent) was for street lighting, according to City Treasurer Diane Percycoe.

Bradenton Beach pays about $900 each month to FPL just for street lighting on Bridge Street.

In Holmes Beach, the city's average monthly electric bill is about $5,500, but no breakdown on the amount charged by FPL solely for street lighting was available by press deadline.

An FPL official said it has 179 street lights in Anna Maria, 448 in Holmes Beach and 165 in Bradenton Beach.