Council wants look at gas credits

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By David Giuliani

Just before the March city election, the biggest issue was how much the city would give back to natural gas customers for alleged overcharges.

Since then, little has been said.

Councilman Morris Madrid broke that relative silence about possible credits for customers during last week’s council meeting. He proposed that the city get Dennis Gee, a natural gas rates consultant, to examine the issue.

“He’s independent of the city. He’s outside of it, and he has no axes to grind,” he said.

According to an independent audit released in March, the city violated its natural gas ordinance for six years, overcharging customers by $10 million. That’s because a utility rate consultant set the cost-of-gas adjustment — a major component of rates — instead of following the calculations required by the ordinance, the audit stated.

Shortly after the audit’s release, Tony Marquez handily defeated incumbent Henry Sanchez in the mayor’s election, in which Sanchez argued the city had done everything right with its rates.

George DuFour, the city’s utilities director, said he disagreed with the auditor’s finding that the city overcharged by $10 million.

“It’s a hell of a lot less than that,” he said. “We need to bring Dennis Gee on board.”

Marquez said the audit never provided any recommendations on how to solve the problem. He said it was a “long debatable topic” that probably required a special meeting.

The mayor said he has talked with District Attorney Richard Flores, who has been pushing the city to provide customers refunds for the months last year after the utility had erased a longstanding deficit.

Marquez said the city needs an accurate figure for those who were overbilled.

After last year’s uproar, the city hired Gee to draft what officials called a simpler ordinance.

The rates have been lower this year. The previous year, Las Vegas residents paid far higher than other communities around the state.