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Sunday, November 28, 2021

City commissioners and officials discussed a recently released audit Tuesday that revealed Gainesville Regional Utilities customers have overpaid nearly $900,000 since 2013 and will continue to be overcharged until a solution is found.

At an Audit and Finance Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, city and GRU officials reviewed the audit, conducted Jan. 1, 2014 through May 31, 2015, by the City of Gainesville Office of the City Auditor, and discussed ways to reclaim the lost money.

"I can identify with any citizen who’s tried to look at some of these bills and determine what we’re being charged for," said Carlos Holt, a Gainesville city auditor. "It’s very difficult to understand."

Since December 2013, Gainesville Renewable Energy Center has overcharged GRU for energy, according to the audit’s finding. This has resulted in $872,498 in overpayments, the audit found — a fee passed on to GRU customers.

The overcharge resulted from an error in price adjustment stated in a 30-year-biomass contract with GREC the city approved in 2009.

"The reason for that being in there was to protect for inflation from the date the contract was signed until the date (of) the actual construction," Holt said.

Until the miscalculation issue is resolved, GRU customers will continue to be overcharged. Mayor Ed Braddy said it’s difficult to determine how much ratepayers were overcharged.

"You have to spread it over 93,000 customer’s monthly bills," he said.

The audit found several contract clauses were not implemented as described in the contract, the most significant being the overcharge.

The audit suggested 15 recommendations for management to GRU, 14 of which GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski Jr. approved.

Two of the approved recommendations suggested considering courses of action to reclaim the money lost in the overpayments and go forward with a suggestion that would fix the miscalculation and save GRU $56,826 a month.

GREC did not agree to those two recommendations, leading Bielarski to say legal actions might have to be taken. Shayla McNeill, an attorney for GRU, said a claim will have to be filed with GREC. The next steps may include legal action or paying in protest to resolve the contract issue, Bielarski said. The committee decided to continue the discussion about the audit’s findings during Thursday’s City Commission meeting.

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Contact Hunter Williamson at hwilliamson@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @hunterewilliam

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