Fulton officials compromise on big gas bill

Itawamba County StockBy Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

Fulton officials have resolved an issue involving an empty house with a massive gas bill.

Back in late July, Fulton resident Gary Leeman appeared before the city’s board of aldermen to question a $525 gas bill for his property at 404 Mimosa Drive. He said the house has been empty since January.

“How in the heck did we accumulate a bill for this much when we weren’t even there?” Leeman asked the board, adding that the sole gas utility connected to the home was the water heater.

The previous month, Leeman’s gas bill was $8.

“Nobody’s been living in that house for five months,’ Leeman said. “Why do I suddenly have this huge gas bill? What went wrong?”

It’s not a gas leak, he quickly added.

“You can’t smell gas anywhere in or around the house,” he said. “There’s no leak.”

Part of the problem may lie with the Leemans’ billing. Leeman and his wife have been utilizing the city’s ability to auto-deduct their payments from their bank account for years. Because of this, the Leemans said they haven’t been regularly checking the charges on their gas bill. As long as the charges weren’t suddenly beyond the norm — say, $525 — the couple simply paid without question.

Therein may lie some of the problem. According to city officials, who were looking at records of the Leemans’ past gas charges, the couple’s bill seemed to fluctuate wildly from month to month. One month might be $5; the next, $40. Because the Leemans weren’t regularly inspecting their gas bill, they didn’t notice the fluctuations.

“We’re assuming you’re charging us the correct amount,” Leeman said. “If there’s a problem with the system, that’s the city’s problem. That’s not my responsibility.”

The board tabled the meeting to give time to look into the problem and allow the incoming board of aldermen and mayor to make the final decision as to how best to handle it. During that two-week break, an investigation of the Leeman’s system led to the discovery that the meter wasn’t consistently reading the right amount of gas used. Added up over years, the faulty meter has resulted in the Leemans being charged less for gas than they should have been.

According to Mayor Lynette Weatherford, who returned to the issue during last week’s regular city meeting, because fault wholly lay with neither the city nor the Leemans, both parties agreed to split the bill.

“I felt that was sufficient,” Weatherford told the board. They agreed, voting to accept the compromise.

adam.armour@journalinc.com