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Fries: Highlands long aware of problem

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By David Giuliani

Highlands University maintains that it has been aware of city natural gas overcharges for the last two years.

The university disputed the argument from the city that no one at Highlands caught the jump in bills, so it was paid until around the beginning of the year.

“The university was quite aware of the overcharge for the past two years and has been working with the city during that time to address the problem,” Highlands President Jim Fries said in an e-mail last week to the school’s employees.

Both the city and Highlands say that the university may have been overcharged by $600,000 in bills since 2007.

According to city information, a new gas meter was installed at Highlands University’s Conner Hall and an improper correction factor was applied, causing the bill to jump by a factor of 10, going from an average of $3,000 a month to $30,000.

Fries said in the e-mail that Highlands even went to its heating contractor, Trane, to perform an audit of Conner Hall’s system. The company found that the boilers couldn’t be using the level of gas the city claimed — even at constant full power, Fries said.

“We continued paying the rate at the city’s request until the problem was resolved. The city agreed it had been using the incorrect formula and is now working with the university to rectify the issue,” Fries said.