Dennis Tankersly shared his shock with members of the San Gorgonio Hospital’s board of directors that he had just signed checks for two water utility bills amounting to nearly $20,000.
The bills were for water that the hospital has no idea as to where it is going, or who is using it; the meters, according to the hospital, sit on vacant land that the hospital healthcare district owns along Ramsey Street.
Since the hospital had never been billed for those meters before, board members were surprised at the sudden payments.
According to City Manager Doug Schulze, the meters were installed nearly 12 years ago.
However, while they were approved, city staff at the time “did not follow proper procedure, so utility billing staff weren’t notified,” Schulze says. “My understanding is that in 2006 the hospital made improvements to their campus and created an emergency water connection to the City’s distribution line” on Ramsey Street.
Previously, service to the hospital had come from a main on Highland Springs Avenue and Wilson Street.
Once the 6-inch connection was installed, “the hospital created a looped system, which can pull water service from different distribution lines if there is a water outage on one of the other connections,” according to Schulze.
The city believes that a hospital contractor may have been given permission by the city to install the meters, though that task was the responsibility of the city, according to Schulze.
Only recently did the city’s utility billing department become aware of the meters, and had them read.
Two bills, one for about $8,000 and another for close to $12,000 were received by the hospital, Tankersly told his board.
Per city policy, the city can only back-bill utilities for up to three years — not the entire decade — which is what was done in this instance, according to Schulze.
“This isn’t an anomaly, and the city utility’s billing staff have been working with the hospital to make arrangements for a payment plan,” Schulze says.
Board president Tankersly did not have enough information in time for their Feb. 5 meeting to provide much detail: the billing came out of nowhere, and visually, the meters did not seem to be registering any noticeable water use at the vacant lot.
Tankersly told the Record Gazette later that “I have been told” by hospital staff investigating the matter “that the meter is not clearly marked, and we are no awaiting feedback from the city.”
He also indicated that “I would only expect to continue to pay for water that is being used for legitimate district purposes,” and adds, “If we determine this is the case, we will work to conserve as much as possible.”
On the other hand, “If it turns out that the district has been signed these charges inaccurately, we will work to have the account reassigned to the appropriate entity and recover the funds.”
Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at email@example.com , or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.