A meter reader's mistake led to much higher-than-normal bills for customers of Kentucky Utilities in and around Lawrenceburg.
During the past 5½ months, the meter reader, who has since been fired, misread about 5,800 of KU's 6,500 meters there, so their bills reflected lower-than-actual kilowatt usage, company spokesman Cliff Feltham said. KU now is sending bills seeking up to hundreds of dollars more to recoup what is owed.
Among the affected customers are Sandy and Donnie Peggs, who raise tobacco south of Lawrenceburg. Their normal monthly bill in summer is $225 to $250. But in July they received a bill for $31, which prompted Sandy Peggs to call KU.
"I told them, 'I'm not complaining that it's too high. It's not enough,' " she said. "Well, the bill was in my husband's name, so they wouldn't even talk to me. It had to be him to call."
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The August bill was $136, then the September bill was $611, she said. The latest bill did not contain any explanation for the higher-than-normal amount, she said.
"I think it's ridiculous," Sandy Peggs said. "The thing that gets me is ... we called to complain that it wasn't enough. Looks like they would have checked. All they had to do was pull our bill and see. And that would have saved two whole months right there."
The reader was an employee of Tru Check Metering Solutions, a company contracted by KU to read its meters.
"We've had Tru Check reading our meters for years and haven't had any issues, any difficulties, any problems," Feltham said.
Tru Check's Web site says its provides "reliable contract meter reading" for 49 electric, gas and water utilities in 11 states. An after-hours call Friday night to a customer-service line said a message would be returned the next business day.
The meter reader was a new employee who had received training to do his job, Feltham said.
"This is a case where the employee didn't do what he was supposed to do, and it ends up affecting customers and also affects us as a company, because we have been victimized by him not doing his job," he said.
KU went back to figure what the usage actually was, and that is what is reflected in the bills.
"What the reading shows is the number of kilowatt hours that the customer has used, and so it is their consumption and theirs to pay," Feltham said.
KU will work with customers who might not be able to pay their bills at one time.
"They can spread it out for six months if that's what they choose to do to pay the bill and catch up," he said.
Customers started receiving the higher-than-normal bills two weeks ago, Feltham said. More customers will receive their bills during the next month, he said.
While the problem appears to be concentrated in Anderson County, a few customers in western Woodford County might be affected as well, Feltham said.
Meanwhile, KU is conducting an internal investigation into the problem. The company "has not made a determination at this point" whether it will pursue criminal charges against the former meter reader, Feltham said.
The problem couldn't come at a worse time, given the criticism KU and its sister company LG&E received earlier this week from the Kentucky Public Service Commission for their worsening customer service.
"This is a heck of a time for this to come up, that's correct, because we're intent and looking hard at our customer-service effort anyway," Feltham said.