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Study: TECO overcharging Tampa to light streets

Discrepancies in everything from bulb outages to the types of poles used for street lighting may have led Tampa Electric Co. to overcharge city residents by $132,000 in the past year, city officials say.

According to a report by the public works department, city residents even paid for some lighting in Temple Terrace.

City officials say they will ask for the money back from TECO.

The overbilling was noticed after a random check of 175 street lights in a 72-square-mile area. David Parkinson, the city's deputy director of public works, conducted the survey.

Last week, a seven-page report on the problems was released.

TECO has been giving poor service, the report said.

"The city receives calls about lights that go without repair for days and weeks after being properly reported, pole number included," wrote Kathleen Betancourt, director of intergovernmental relations, in the report's cover letter.

Parkinson said his report was motivated by budget constraints. City officials use tax dollars to pay for the lighting.

TECO spokesman Mike Mahoney said the city's report was the first he had heard of poor service. TECO officials do not believe a refund is necessary.

"We have to see on what basis they made their claims and on what basis they made their calculation," Mahoney said. "We want to resolve this problem."

Among the troubles noted in the report were:

Because some bulbs were out last year and not replaced immediately, the city paid for $64,000 of lighting it didn't get. Of the light bulbs that were out, 21.5 percent weren't replaced for five or more days.

In some instances, the city was charged for expensive aluminum poles when poles were actually made out of wood. TECO overcharged the city by $74,000 on poles.

The city paid for $12,000 worth of Temple Terrace's lighting.

The city was underbilled in some areas for a total of $19,000, leaving city officials with the $132,000 overcharge.

Parkinson said the city has no policy regarding payment for bulbs that aren't working. He said a policy should be created.

According to Betancourt's letter, not only were the types of poles listed incorrectly for billing, but even the location of some poles.

Another concern is TECO's attempts to trim trees from around lights. Inspections of lights showed that 11 percent of the time, tree trimming had been done improperly, leading to poor lighting.

Parkinson said he thinks that TECO and the city can work out their troubles without going to the state Public Service Commission. He said that a meeting is scheduled for today.