KINGSPORT - Through an oversight, Kingsport and Bristol have been overcharging the Sullivan County Board of Education for sewer service for years. The matter, however, has been resolved, and the two cities are planning to reimburse the school system.
The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted last week to pay the BOE $58,197 for four and a half years worth of sewer overcharges at several county schools. Of that amount, $16,413 was for sewer charges at the athletic fields at Central High School - fields that are not hooked up to sewer at all.
City Manager John Campbell said the refund would not affect Kingsport's sewer rates.
According to city and county officials, Kingsport and Bristol have been charging Sullivan County the out-of-city rate for sewer instead of the in-city rate for sewer for the past 10 years. In 1996, Kingsport and Sullivan County entered into a city-county sewer agreement which called for sewer charges at county schools to be made at the same rate as if the school was located inside the city.
Once the overcharge was discovered last summer, the BOE brought the matter to Kingsport's attention. The county estimated 10 years worth of overcharges came to more than $250,000. Since the discovery, city and county officials negotiated the matter and settled on a refund equivalent to four and a half years for the sewer overcharges.
City and county officials are still uncertain how the overcharge took place.
"One way (the overcharge) could have happened was when the application was made," Kingsport City Attorney Mike Billingsley said.
As for the athletic field, Billingsley said it was not clear the account was an irrigation account.
"Someone saw restrooms on the field and assumed it all tied together. We really don't know," he said. "It wasn't anything deliberate or intentional."
Pat Hull, attorney for the BOE, said Bristol has been overcharging the county as well, and a similar agreement has been completed for a refund.
"One of the problems is it's very difficult to do the accounting for the reason being you have to go back to every bill for whatever period of time, looking at it and then isolating the particular facility involved and make a calculation for each one," Hull said. "Those records are not readily available to us."