Homestead Overbilled Stadium Operator For Utilities

Homestead is backtracking from its claim that the operator of the city baseball stadium owes $25,000 in past-due utility bills. But the city still says the company owes $41,000 for insurance premiums.

The overbilling comes to light a month after the city asked La Ley Sports to catch up on unpaid utility and insurance bills in connection with its lease of the stadium. The disputes are on the agenda for Wednesday’s City Council meeting for further discussion.

On Monday, La Ley Sports, owned by Spanish-language TV lawyer John H. Ruiz, provided The Miami Herald with an email from the city’s solid waste coordinator. In the email, the coordinator asks city staff to refund La Ley for “all garbage services” since March 2011 for one of the company’s many accounts with the city. The refund is about $22,000, according to city documents.

When asked about this, a city spokeswoman came back with a new account summary showing the credit but still claiming a net unpaid balance of $3,000 for utilities plus the insurance premiums.

However, Ruiz said the city botched his utility bills. “We were being billed for some garbage cans or canisters that weren\’t even there,” Ruiz said. A city official said the bill was for a trash bin that was on the property at one point, but was later removed, and the bill was never adjusted.

Ruiz said the city also has overbilled La Ley for water because the city employees who came out to read the water meters at the facility could not find the meters. “I think they just billed us based on a guesstimate,” Ruiz said. He said the ballpark’s fields are irrigated with water from an on-site lake. The water use at the facility is mainly for two clubhouse bathrooms, yet the city has billed La Ley for almost $100,000 for the year for water, he said. “It’s impossible for us to have consumed that amount of water,” Ruiz said.

He added: “It is our opinion that we have been overbilled by $50,000.”

City officials stand by the amounts billed for water and the accuracy of the meter reading. On three separate occasions over the past year, city employees were not able to access one water meter, city spokeswoman Begoñe Cazalis wrote in an email. But in such cases, the city estimates the bill based on past usage, and later adjusts the bill if the actual reading is different. “City staff had access to the meter in March and confirmed it was working properly,” Cazalis wrote.

La Ley Sports began leasing the long-empty, city-owned stadium in July 2011 with hopes of attracting school and international sports teams. La Ley broadcasts the games and collects stats for free online. With the stadium leased, city officials were elated to get a costly asset off their hands. But then La Ley failed to carry insurance on the structure, as required by its lease, and, according to city records, fell behind on its electric, water and garbage bills. The City Council last month asked La Ley to bring its utility accounts up to date and to start reimbursing the city for property insurance premiums on the stadium.

City Council members had already retroactively waived the property insurance requirement from July 2011 until Jan. 3, 2012, after La Ley failed to carry the insurance. In a letter dated March 26, a Homestead city attorney asked Ruiz to reimburse the city for insurance premium payments from January through March. The premium is about $10,000 a month, which the city has been paying.

La Ley had asked the city to waive the insurance requirement for four years, but the City Council last month refused. Ruiz said his company hasn’t paid it because it has asked the council to take up the property insurance issue again at Wednesday’s council meeting. “I’m already willing and able to pay, but I’m asking for it to be waived,” Ruiz said, referring to the insurance bills.

The city has given Ruiz until Saturday to pay the insurance and utility bills, according to the city attorney’s letter.

Source: Miami Herald

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