Monday, February 13, 2006
Carmel on the Case: Power Play
Florida power and light has been in the spotlight since the hurricane season. But not all the coverage has been positive. Now Seven News has turned up information that indicates FPL could be making big money from taxpayers by charging for street lights - that don't exist. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is live in Pompano Beach with this - "Power Play".
Carmel Cafiero: "I'm standing on a street that is supposed to have a street light right where i'm standing. But look what happens when we turn our camera lights off. I'm in the dark - and so are South Florida taxpayers."
Since hurricane season, the condition of power poles has become a lightening rod of criticism for Florida Power and Light.
Now Seven News has learned - there's a new issue - cities paying tens of thousands of dollars - for lights on FPL poles that do not exist.
Mike Danvers: "It's a big problem because its not in one particular area but it's right across - across the city."
Mike Danvers was hired to count FPL power poles with lights for the city of Pompano Beach.
According to his report - he could not find four hundred fifty three of them.
This despite the fact FPL has charged the city for both the cost to operate and the cost to maintain these non existent poles.
Mike Danvers: "Looking back at the bills that I've seen, that I've audited - we're talking about years."
How much a city pays is based on the kind of pole and wattage of the light bulb.
In Pompano Beach - it appears the city has been over-paying close to fifty thousand dollars a year.
Mike Danvers: "I figure what FPL needs is better monitoring of their poles and inventory."
For example - Danvers' report shows 13 lights exist along NW 18th Drive.
But he says the city is being billed for 36 lights - 23 more than are actually there.
Here on SW 6th Court - the city pays for 11 street lights - but Danvers says he found only eight.
Mike Danvers: "The last street light stops right here. But they are saying there are three more street lights beyond here."
And what's beyond here is a highway.
Mike Danvers: "And these street lights based on the address do indicate that it stops right over there by the wall."
Carmel Cafiero: "No one from Pompano Beach would talk with us about all this. A spokesperson says the city manager does not want - and I quote - to instigate a problem with FPL by dealing with this through the media."
But documents obtained by seven news speak volumes about what has been going on between Pompano Beach and Florida Power and Light.
For more than a year fpl has failed to credit the city for past charges and has continued to charge for the non-existent light poles.
The first letter from the director of public works, D.C. Maudlin, put FPL on notice...453 lights were not found.
That was in December of 2004.
Then for the next year - a series of e-mails also failed to get a refund.
The memos from Maudlin reflect his frustration.
In May - he wrote "It's been six months since I asked you to correct our monthly invoice".
In July - "When will our bill be reduced"?
By October - "My patience and understanding have run out".
And in December - one year from the first letter - Maudlin sent a request for a 48 thousand dollar credit and reduction of the monthly bills.
Today - the city is still being billed and is still paying.
Carmel Cafiero: "So what does FPL say? Nothing to us. Despite the fact Seven News spent weeks calling and asking for an interview about this issue - no one from the company would answer our questions."
And now a second city has discovered it is being billed for lights that don't exist.
The City of Tamarac also hired Mike Danvers.
The final report isn't in - but again thousands of dollars a month are at stake.
Jack Strain: "So we feel that there are definitely uh poles that we are being billed for that aren't there."
Public works director Jack Strain believes his city stands to save a substantial amount of money.
Jack Strain: "If there's a five per cent error that could be as much as 30 thousand dollars. Carmel Cafiero: A year? Jack Strain: A year."
He says Tamarac will give the report to FPL and request a refund.
Jack Strain: "This is what we've got. It's through your due diligence now to prove us wrong. Carmel Cafiero: Otherwise give us our money back? Jack Strain: Otherwise give us our money back pretty much in a nutshell."
Carmel Cafiero: "This "power play" could have far reaching consequences. Danvers has found the same problem in a third South Florida city. And there's no telling how many others may have the same situation."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
If you have a story for Carmel:
Call her in Dade at 305-627-CLUE
Or in Broward at 954-921-CLUE