Estimates off on Seattle City Light bills

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by JESSE JONES / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on March 12, 2010 at 12:29 AM

There's nothing wrong with the power at Erek Barhoum's Seattle condo. Light's go on, work just fine. But he says his wallet is about to get zapped from a recent City Light bill.

Jesse Jones: "What's your bill usually?"

Erek Barhoum: "Between $70 and $90."

Jesse Jones: "What's your bill this month?"

Erek Barhoum: "$489."

Jesse Jones: "You got to be kidding me."

Erek Barhoum: "I wish I was."

Erek isn't alone. His neighbors, all 16 of them, have the same problem. One of them is Laurel Rutherford.

Jesse Jones: "What went through your mind when you saw the bill?"

Laurel Rutherford: "How am I going to pay it?"

Remember how cold and snowy last winter was? For the same time last year, Laurel's bill was $90. This year, it's $440.

Calls to City Light customer service weren't helpful.

"She was acting really exasperated that I was even calling to question it, like I was putting her out by questioning the bill," she said about her call.

Erek says he got much of the same treatment.

"They furthermore said we'd have to pay this bill and then wait until the next billing cycle before they got someone out here to read it and correct the charges, which I didn't think was acceptable," he said.

After hearing this, I went to Seattle City Light and spoke with Suzanne Hartman. She said crews couldn't access the meters for over six months, so they used estimates, but they were well off. In summer, in some cases, they charged half of what they should have. This winter, it was a lot more. In the end they hoped to even it out.

"Everyone's bill will be adjusted, they're all around the same amount of money, it's all about $80 to $100," she said.

Hartman added that a new property management company changed the locks. City Light didn't know whom to contact to read the meters.

But estimates shouldn't have gone on for half a year.

"This is a good lesson learned," she said. "We need to be telling our customers if we're going to be more than one billing cycle, you know, we're estimating, we'll let them know there's a reason why."

Seattle City Light is sending everyone in the condo new bills.

One last point: Just 2 percent of its customers are billed based on estimates. Check your bill. If you are part of that small group, call customer service right away to make sure you are billed accurately.

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