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Pasco: No streetlight refunds for former Aloha customers

Thousands of former Aloha Utilities customers who were billed by the company for streetlights will not receive any refunds, state regulators have decided.

Staff members of the Florida Public Service Commission closed the case after an examination of billing records left them unable to determine whether the utility overcharged customers.

"They spent two years working through this," commission spokeswoman Cynthia Muir said. "It was quite monetarily expensive and time intensive."

She said even if Aloha did overbill, "it was just pennies."

The revelation ends a three-year dispute between Aloha, now MMLJ Holdings, and residents of several west Pasco neighborhoods.

"It's unfortunate," said Greg Giordano, chief aide to state Sen. Mike Fasano, a vocal critic of Aloha over the years. Fasano pushed for the Public Service Commission to investigate after customers kept getting bills for streetlights and garbage pickup after the water company was sold.

The commission began its inquiry in November 2009 and issued subpoenas in 2010 for those records. Aloha, which sold its water and sewer systems in 2010 to a government coalition, had refused to provide the information.

Circuit Judge Susan Gardner ordered MMLJ to provide the requested documents within 30 days.

In January 2011, MMLJ delivered what was then described as "a large pile of documents" to the commission office.

Amid the investigation, former Aloha customers reported they stopped getting streetlight bills from MMLJ.

At issue was how much Aloha charged: Since Aloha was not regulated as an electric utility, it could not sell the streetlight services at a profit. It could only pass along its own costs from Progress Energy.

If Aloha turned a profit on the streetlights, state regulators could require the company to give refunds to those customers.

Giordano said what the agency received was "a document dump."

"The PSC did not have the staff to make something meaningful from the data Aloha delivered," he said.

Hindering matters further was the fact that the agency had lost 26 positions to budget cuts and was working on other cases that took priority.

Giordano said he was given an example of a two-year period that showed $243,283 was billed, while $203,358 was collected. During the same time $267,945 was reported to the commission. The commission determined that $225,464 should have been billed.

The fact that refunds would have to be calculated individually, taking into account customers who have moved or passed away, also made it impossible to figure out, Giordano said.

A worst-case scenario, if there had been overbilling, he said, was that the actual amount due any customer would be minuscule.

The news came as no real surprise to customers such as Chris Grogan.

"I have lived here since 1980 when I purchased my home and I have been paying for the lights for the past 30 years," he said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. "I haven't heard anything from the water company — but didn't really expect to."

Pasco: No streetlight refunds for former Aloha customers 03/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 6:59pm]
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