South Burlington High School

To pay $15,651.93 or not to pay $15,651.93: that is the question. The question arose at the September 21st School Board meeting when Superintendent David Young reported that Vermont Gas had sent the School District a “retroactive bill” for $15,651.93 because of a “faulty meter reading device.” The bill was for gas use reaching back to April, 2009; bills since then had been “off by an average of 29 percent,” according to Young.

“While [Vermont Gas has] offered a term to pay off the outstanding balances,” Young told the Board, “we recommend that we pay this entire amount and charge it back to the FY 2011 budget as our books are not fully closed until the audit is completed.”

Board members were not as willing to pay the retroactive gas bill immediately and entirely. Diane Bugbee opened the discussion by asking whether there was some way to limit the District’s liability. Martin LaLonde wondered whether Vermont Gas had told Young why they believed that the bill had to be paid. Board member Julie Beatty emphasized that, even though FY 2011’s books are still open, the books for FY 2009 and FY 2010 are closed.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald followed up Beatty’s point. “To me, the time gap is what’s at issue,” she underscored, “I think that there is a standard of practice when you operate on a 12-month fiscal year, particularly when you’re a public entity that’s funded by tax dollars. There shouldn’t be an expectation that you would be liable for past expenses.” She suggested going back to Vermont Gas to let them know that the FY 2009 and FY 2010 books are closed and that the District cannot go back and re-tax the community for another party’s equipment errors.

Young said that Vermont Gas had offered to allow the District to spread the requested payment of $15,651.93 over a number of months. Given that offer, Board Chair Richard Cassidy said that perhaps the company would be willing to provide some “discount” for prompt payment of the entire amount. He also speculated about whether the full amount needed to be paid. “If we could show, for example, that we would have used less gas had we known what our usage actually was,” he suggested, “we might not have to pay.”

Elizabeth Fitzgerald recommended that Young try to negotiate with Vermont Gas, but she did not feel that legal counsel needed to be consulted on the payment question. “It’s really a conversation that we, as a consumer for the District, would have with a supplier,” she said. Young said that he would talk further with Vermont Gas.

SOURCE: Bill Wargo, Correspondent

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