WUFT News

Group Investigating If GRU May Have Overcharged You $33 In Last Three Years

By on May 21st, 2014

UPDATE – 22 May 3:30 p.m.: GRU’s press office contacted WUFT News with more information regarding the handling of the certified letter sent by Seniors vs. Crime. Although Sterling did not respond to the letter, she did forward the issue to GRU’s attorney Shayla McNeill. McNeill has not been made available for comment.

Original:
A local advocacy organization representing a Gainesville resident claims that Gainesville Regional Utilities may be inappropriately taxing a portion of utility bills each month. If the claim is upheld, this could mean Gainesville residents may be able to collect millions of dollars in refunds.

Seniors vs. Crime, a program of the state attorney general’s office, is representing James Konish, 59, who noticed what he considered an odd charge on his utility bill four months ago.

The fee controversy centers on whether the 10 percent municipality tax should be assessed on the electric customer charge. See the complete GRU bill breakdown.
The dispute centers on the 10 percent tax collected on the portion of utility bills called the “Electric Customer Charge” that is a set fee for all GRU customers. Customers in both the city of Gainesville and outside city limits in Alachua County are assessed tax on that charge.

Looking at the fee in aggregate of GRU’s 82,000 residential customers, the fee represents more than $2.7 million the utility may have collected on behalf of the city and county over the last three years.

WUFT News reached out to GRU, whose attorney declined to comment. The utility did release a statement, saying: “the city commission has asked the city attorney’s office to look into the issue and they are doing that.”

Calls to city and county officials in the last two days were not returned.

The state attorney office said they could not comment unless the office was actively working on the case.

WUFT News reached out to other utility companies in Florida, including Duke Energy. According to a spokesperson, Duke does collect a customer charge on electric service, but does not assess a municipal tax on that fee.

‘We Don’t See a Justification for the Charge’

According to Konish, a private attorney in the city, it wasn’t the charge that was the problem, but the taxes applied to it.

In the state of Florida, a municipality can tax purchases of electricity, gas and water up to 10 percent. That means you can be taxed on consumable goods purchases from a utility company approved in state law as well as reinforced in city and county ordinances.

Konish stipulates, however, that a set fee is not a consumable good.

He took his complaint to Seniors vs. Crime, where John Caravella took up the case.

“When we look at that as a non-consumable versus the ability to tax consumable electric use, we don’t see a justification for the tax on the Electronic Customer Charge,” said Caravella, who leads the Alachua County office.

According to state law, anyone who was inappropriately taxed may request a refund, within a three-year statute of limitations.

A 10 percent charge of the ECC for the last three years would equal a potential $33 refund for each GRU customer, according to Caravella.

“It may seem like a small amount, but when you look at it in the context of maybe a customer facing a disconnect over $33, it could be significant to the individual, if not the community as a whole,” Caravella said.

Seniors vs. Crime is a non-profit project of the Florida Attorney General’s Office. It was founded in 1989, and its primary goal is to reduce the victimization of senior citizens who may be targeted based on their age. It provides educational and crime prevention programs and serves as an advocate for senior citizens. Its website states that the program “does not not offer or provide legal services or legal representation. Any response provided is not legal advice, is not a definite statement of the law, and is not a complete analysis of this area of inquiry.”

Seniors vs. Crime was also behind the successful effort to correct nine cases of overcharging customers at Gatorland Toyota last year. An investigation by the state attorney general’s office was settled in March.

Caravella sent a certified letter to GRU Supervisor Kathy Sterling on behalf of Konish on April 17, but did not receive a response within a 30 day window of the request. (see the letter below.)

In the letter, Carvella inquired “whether the ECC qualifies as a ‘purchase of electric power’ or whether the ECC is a fixed nonconsumption charge and thereby not a purchase of electric power subject to the 10% tax,” as allowed by Florida statute 166.231(1)(a).

The Seniors vs. Crime office is only looking at the ECC because Caravella says they are certain of how that’s defined by law, but there are also fixed charges for natural gas and water use that are also taxed.

Read the Seniors vs. Crime case documents and communication with GRU

SVC to GRU – File Copy

GRU/Konish Documents

Clarification: An earlier version of this story online said that the state attorney office did not return calls for comment. We have updated the story to reflect that they are unable to comment unless they are engaged in an active investigation.


This entry was posted in Local and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Harold Saive

    The State of Florida’s Seniors vs. Crime (SVC) Program appears to be growing teeth to deliver justice on a local level. Find out how you can get involved in SVC, a program that is funded by the State as a project of the Florida Attorney General with cooperation of the Alachua County Sheriff’s office under Sheriff, Sadie Darnell. – http://www.seniorsvscrime.com/

 

More Stories in Local

Scott Camil, 68, points to a cartoon depicting himself and other members of the Gainesville Eight at their trial. The original cartoon was given to him by the artist, Bill Day. The Gainesville Eight was the name given to a group of anti-Vietnam war protestors charged with conspiracy to disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami.

Vietnam War Veteran Rejects Violence, Embraces Peace

Vietnam War veteran Scott Camil once believed the war to be right and honorable. Now, Camil is the founder of Gainesville Veterans for Peace, an organization that partners with other organizations around the area to promote peace.


David Cleveland sits outside his tent in Dignity Village near Grace Marketplace Tuesday, March 10, 2015. Cleveland's campsite is located on a 10 acre span of land that the city of Gainesville will lease from the state.

City Aquires Land Surrounding GRACE Marketplace

The city is finalizing an agreement to use 10 acres of land currently occupied by Dignity Village homeless encampment which could create a more regulated environment.


Jannette Perez poses for a portrait outside of Pugh Hall on the University of Florida campus.

TV Show Gives College Student Second Chance

Former UF drop-out gets an opportunity to start over and help others after a visit from the reality TV show “Undercover Boss” while working her job at Gigi’s Cupcake shop.


HOrses Helping PEople volunteer Alex Hendrix (right) and barn manager Kaylie Madore (left) walk with Lauren Ault while she rides Lila during a hippotherapy session at the HOPE farm in Archer on April 8. Ault was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor at the age of 20, which left her wheelchair-bound.

Wheelchair-Bound Woman Rides Again With A Little Help From HOPE

Lauren Ault was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor seven years ago. Now, despite being wheelchair-bound, she has found independence with HOrses Helping PEople.


Swamp Head Brewery, with the help of the University of Florida's Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences department, released 300 bluegills into what will soon become a self-sustaining wetlands. Photo courtesy of Brandon Nappy.

Swamp Head Brewery Introduces Species to New Conservation

When Swamp Head Brewery moved into their new location, off Southwest 34th Street in Gainesville, in January, they saved one acre of their land for conservation. The brewery is working toward creating an environment that is reflective of their tasting room, “The Wetlands.”


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments