POWAY, CA — The Poway City Council may order a comprehensive audit of the city’s real estate contracts and billing practices, after two billing errors went unnoticed for several years, potentially costing the city nearly $900,000. Councilman Jim Cunningham called for the review, citing two incidents that have made headlines in recent months. In the first case, the city billed Pomerado Hospital for only 10 percent its water use between 2008 and 2014 — a shortfall of roughly $800,000. In the second, the city failed to calculate a scheduled increase in lease payments from Sportsplex USA from 2010 to 2015, costing Poway roughly $90,000. The city is trying to recoup some of its money from both parties, but the hospital and Sportsplex are challenging those efforts, and the law may limit what Poway can collect. City Manager Dan Singer learned about the water-billing error last summer and the Sportsplex error in March, but waited for months to notify the council. Cunningham said Friday when the Great Recession hit in 2008, the city cut its workforce from about 270 employees to roughly 190. He said he’s now worried that the details in city contracts slipped through the cracks because of the loss of manpower. “I don’t know what’s out there so that’s why I’m requesting the audit. We don’t have anybody assigned like we did in the old days to look at every real estate contract and monitor them,” Cunningham said. He has asked Singer to schedule a special meeting to discuss hiring an outside firm to conduct the audit, and to determine how to pay for it. Mayor Steve Vaus Friday said he expects an audit will take place. “There is no doubt in my mind we will be taking a close look at every contract,” he said. The Sportsplex lease calls for the company, which operates a large recreation complex on city-owned land in the Poway Business Park, to pay the city $4,000 a month, plus a portion of its gross revenues. In 2010, the percentage of revenues was supposed to have jumped from 7 percent to 8 percent, but the city never factored in the increase. The result: about $15,000 per year went uncollected. Making matters worse, some council members said, Singer failed to notify them about the problem and instead negotiated a deal with Sportsplex that called for the business to repay a portion of what was due, and put $10,000 of that toward the Tony Gwynn Memorial Fund. The council has repeatedly said the Gwynn memorial would be funded only through private donations. A closed-session council meeting was set for Friday evening to discuss Singer’s performance evaluation and possible contract renewal. This is the fifth time in the past few months the council has met behind closed doors to discuss Singer, without providing specific information about the status of his review. Normally such performance evaluations are routine matters requiring usually only two closed sessions. It is not expected that any action will be taken Friday night by the council.
Some Kirkwood residents are getting a shock when they open their sewer bills this month. The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District is charging a one-time fee to correct a billing error, jacking up bills several hundred dollars in some cases. Shonda Scott’s bill jumped up more than $400. “I was given a little notice from our neighbors,” said Scott, whose neighbors saw increases of $100- $200. “My blood pressure didn’t shoot up as high as it could have possibly been.” According to MSD spokesperson Lance LeComb, Scott and her neighbors are outliers, with the average customer owing the utility $6.50. “We’re certainly always very flexible in setting payment plans and we will work with those folks,” said LeComb. “But the bottom line is we did make a mistake, but we are billing for services that were rendered and delivered.” LeComb said letters warning customers of the fee were sent out last week to 6,500 Kirkwood residents and 800 businesses. For the past eight months those customers were under-billed due to a conversion error introduced by MSD when the city of Kirkwood put in new water meters. The meters measure water usage in gallons, while MSD measures water usage in one hundred cubic feet. Because MSD bills are based on water usage, Scott said she is confused that her bill is so much higher than her neighbors. “Our kids are moving out, we’re kind of empty nesting. And we don’t have a pool, we don’t have an irrigation system,” said Scott. “So I was surprised that ours is $400 higher compared to the $100 and $200 higher that our neighbors are experiencing.”