City of Melville accounting error makes residents pay for underground power three years in a row

Stock image.
Stock image.

A CITY of Melville accounting error has resulted in more than 900 homeowners being tapped for underground power fees in three consecutive years.

Ratepayers in the Melville South project area last week received letters informing them the total revenue collected in 2015 and 2016 was not enough to cover the cost of removing overhead lines and undergrounding power.

Having already been charged between $3726 and $5316, the letter from City of Melville senior accountant Wayne Nicholls said the 912 affected homeowners would be required to make a final payment of $326 each to meet the shortfall.

Leach Highway homeowner Karen Wheatland said the latest bill was a “kick in the guts.”

“I bought this house in October 2014 so I was never surveyed and I had no idea these charges were coming – the previous owner paid to have underground power installed for both lots when he subdivided,” she said.

“I’m still busy paying off the previous charges so to get this new letter, I was just disgusted.”

The Melville South project area was originally surveyed to assess support for undergrounding power infrastructure in 2010.

At the time, homeowners were quoted an approximate cost of $4400 per property (determined by Western Power), with the majority of respondents to the survey indicating support for the project.

However, Western Power did not begin work in the area until 2015 – by which time the actual cost had risen to an average of $5254 per property.

The City of Melville always intended to split the cost to ratepayers over two years and in 2015 every affected homeowner received a network charge for $3400 – reflecting Western Power’s cash call for that financial year.

The following year, property owners received a further $326 network charge with selected homes that did not already have an underground power connection point on their verge also required to pay a $1590 connection fee.

Mr Nicholls said the combination of the charges over the two years was intended to cover the cost of the project but that a mistake was made when calculating the second set of network charges in 2016.

“I’d like to say it was a complicated exercise but really I just got it wrong,” he said.

“It was a calculation error and I’m not trying to window dress it, we stuffed up.”

“We’ve gone back to everyone this year asking for an extra $326 that should have been requested in 2016-17.”

Mr Nicholls acknowledged that at an average of $5254 per property, the ultimate cost was higher than what was originally quoted but said there were also many homeowners who have ended up paying less than $4400.

“If they did not require a new connection point, most people in the Melville South project area will end up paying $4052,” he said.

“Then there are some people paying $4052 plus the $1590 connection fee, and then there also some pensioners who received a rebate as well as some people that were not required to pay the full connection fee because the work was already part done but not brought up to code.”

Acting Melville chief executive Christine Young apologised for the inconvenience caused by the accounting error and said the Melville South project area was the only instance of an underestimated original quote since the City first entered the underground power program in 1996.

Irate homeowners took to the Melville City Chat Facebook page to vent their frustration at the latest bill, with a post on the page racking up more than 250 comments.

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