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School overcharged $54,000

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Council approves refund for Highlands University

By Martin Salazar

Talk about sticker shock.

A software conversion error resulted in New Mexico Highlands University being substantially overbilled for natural gas it received from the city’s distribution system. But this wasn’t your typical billing error that can simply be fixed by the city utilities department.

Highlands University was overbilled to the tune of $54,113, resulting in city Utilities Director Ken Garcia having to go before the City Council to request its permission to adjust the bill.

City Councilors unanimously signed off on the adjustment at Tuesday evenings meeting.

In case you’re wondering if the glitch affected your own gas bill, the answer is no, according to Garcia.

During a City Council work session on Feb. 10, Garcia told the council that the error affected just four accounts, and the three other accounts have already been adjusted.

“This error was limited to only a certain type of meter and we went through and corrected the error for all the customers, there were four customers that were affected,” he said.

Garcia said the university was being billed incorrectly for about six months.  

City staff learned about the error on Jan. 9.

The error occurred when four meters were converted from H.T.E. software to a Tyler software. The conversion multiplier and conversion factor were transferred incorrectly, resulting in an incorrect billing multiplier.

When the error was discovered, city staff conducted an audit to ensure that other accounts were being billed correctly.

Garcia said that because of the magnitude of the overpayments, and the fact that the university’s normal monthly bill is roughly between $8,000 and $10,000, the university was requesting an actual refund as opposed to simply having its account credited.

The adjustment needed Council approval because of a resolution adopted by the city’s governing body in January 2012.

That resolution allows the utilities department to make adjustments for under $1,000. Any adjustments of between $1,000 and $50,000 must get approval from the city manager and finance director. All adjustments over $50,000 require approval from the mayor and Council.

In response to a question from Councilwoman Tonita Gurule-Giron, Garcia said the refund will not hurt the gas utility’s budget.