Agency may seek housing gas refund

-A A +A
By David Giuliani

A federal agency says it may have the local housing authority request a refund on its natural gas bills for previous overcharges by the city.

Patricia Campbell, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Tuesday that her agency would have to first look at an independent auditor’s report on the city’s natural gas rates.

She said that based on her agency’s information so far, it would have the housing authority seek a refund from the city’s natural gas utility.

HUD’s statements were the latest example of the fallout from an audit released last week by an independent auditor, who found that the city had violated its natural gas ordinance for six years in setting rates, overcharging customers by $10 million.

Campbell said the city’s housing authority, which receives subsidies from the federal agency, has a contract with HUD that mandates federal dollars be spent as efficiently and economically as possible.

Campbell said HUD’s Albuquerque office found out about the overcharges on Monday. She said the city’s public housing developments get city natural gas through the use of master meters.

Chris Barela, the housing authority’s director, said he had no comment on HUD’s statements.

“I have to do my own research and see where we go from here,” he said.

If HUD directs Barela to ask for a refund, that would put the director in the unusual position of placing a demand on his own boss, Interim City Manager Elmer Martinez.

Martinez said he had not heard anything from the federal agency and as such, didn’t have any information on the matter.

Mayor Henry Sanchez, who is up for re-election on Tuesday, has said reimbursements aren’t possible because the money has already been spent on natural gas.

He has pointed to the part of the audit that states that if the city had followed the ordinance, the utility would be in deficit by $10 million. He has apologized for what happened with natural gas rates, but he has added that the city did everything right.