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— A misread electric meter has brought the city of DecaturÃ-s water department an unexpected $142,845.06.

Empire Electric recently investigated DecaturÃ-s electric bill because the city had a balance each month after its bill was paid, Mayor Bill Montgomery said at MondayÃ-s city council meeting. In the investigation, the company found that a meter at the wastewater treatment plant had been misread for some time and the city of Decatur had been overcharged $142,845.06 over a period of more than five years.

During the investigation, Empire Electric also found that the city did not pay a $13,158.62 electric bill in December of 2005.

Terry Oliver, customer service director for Empire Electric, contacted Montgomery about the issue. Oliver offered Montgomery the option of paying the city $142,845.06 in a lump sum, or giving them that amount of credit on their electric bill. Oliver also offered to forgive the unpaid bill of $13,158 and consider it interest for the overcharge.

Montgomery told council members that he has consulted with the state auditor, and the extra money or electricity must be credited back to the water department since it was originally charged to the water department.

The new wastewater treatment plant is in need of a generator ó estimated to cost more than $300,000 ó to keep the plant running during power outages. The unexpected $142,000 will put the city well on its way to funding the new generator, Montgomery said.

ÃIt was a blessing in disguise. ItÃ-s going to be a great addition to our funding for our generator for the wastewater plant ... It was an honest mistake,î Montgomery said, adding that the company admitted it was their mistake and is working to make it right with Decatur.

ÃIf they hadnÃ-t said anything, we would have never known it,î councilwoman Linda Martin said.

ÃHe (Oliver) said to me, ûMr. Mayor we could have never told you but weÃ-re not that kind of company,Ã-î Montgomery said, ÃWeÃ-re seeing prosperous times, itÃ-s a blessing.î

Montgomery asked the council if they would like Empire Electric to pay the city a lump sum of cash or compensate them on the electric bill.

City attorney Tom Smith recommended opting to take the cash now, suggesting the city could collect enough interest on it over the next year to pay for an extra monthÃ-s electric bill.

Montgomery voiced concerns that if the money were tied up in a certificate of deposit, the water department wouldnÃ-t have access to it if they needed it. City administrative assistant Kim Beggs suggested putting the money in the cityÃ-s APERS account, which draws a high interest rate but can be withdrawn with a weekÃ-s notice.

After hearing SmithÃ-s recommendation, the city council voted to ask Empire Electric to cut the city a check to invest as the council sees fit.

ÃLets keep running like we donÃ-t know we have it and see how we do,î councilwoman Reagina Davis said.

Community, Pages 7 on 08/12/2009

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