By Lena Mitchell
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
TISHOMINGO – Pattie Ferguson opened her electric bill for Pattie’s One Stop in early December, and the $18,617 amount due took her breath away, though she knew it must be an error.
When her regular bill from Tishomingo County Electric Power Association arrived soon after with a more customary amount of $837, she was relieved.
“I thought the bill was a misprint, since I’ve been in my store five years,” Ferguson said. “I sent the $837 because that was about my normal bill, but I called and talked with a receptionist. I had to leave a message and called several more times, but nobody ever called me back.”
When she did hear from TCEPA, General Manager Robert Grisham arrived at her store days later to confirm the amount due of $18,617 was correct.
“There was an underbilling, and we’re trying to work that out with her, with her cooperation and the Public Service Commission,” Grisham said.
The underbilled amount covers a period of about two-and-a-half years, and Ferguson wondered how such an error could continue for so long without being detected.
“We do not routinely read every meter at least once a year,” Grisham said. “Our present schedule calls for a reading of all meters at least once every 24 months. Most rural electric cooperatives use a signal transmitted to a computer with usage, and that is taken by our billing service and bills taken from that.”
The billing system Grisham describes has been under scrutiny by the Public Service Commission for several months, said Northern District PSC Commissioner Brandon Presley.
“I have asked and we are undergoing a very intensive review of metering practices throughout the state after getting complaints through 2013,” Presley said. “I have had a concern about meter readings, that customers may not be getting a correct bill.”
In fact, the PSC helped the DeSoto County School District recover $900,000 for which they were overbilled, plus about $300,000 in accrued interest, Presley said.
“Ms. Ferguson filed a complaint with our office and it’s currently under investigation,” Presley said. “I’ve spoken with her and Tishomingo County Electric and have asked the legal department at the commission to review the complaint.”
TCEPA offered a payment plan for the underbilled amount, with Ferguson paying $450 every two weeks over five years, an arrangement Ferguson will not agree to without some answers.
Meanwhile, she is paying her regular monthly bill when it comes.
“My bill has been the same for five years,” Ferguson said. “I added some equipment and did things to cut down on my electric bill, cutting everything off at night and unplugging things. The problem was discovered in July and nobody comes and talks to me, they just send me a bill in the mail this many months later.”
The time since July has been spent investigating the source of the underbilling, Grisham said, and the increased bill is not due to an increase in Ferguson’s rate but an increase in usage.
“When he came to tell me and I started becoming emotional, he patted me on the shoulder and said ‘Ma’am, we don’t want to run you out of business’,” Ferguson said. But she’s worried that may be the result.