Tuesday, October 21, 2014 · 2:24 p.m.
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Electric Power Board members discuss an ongoing audit of the utility company's streetlight billing. (Photo: Staff)

An audit of EPB’s streetlight billing will be delayed by several weeks.

The report was initially expected to be completed by July 1. Vicky Gregg told board members Thursday that the review being conducted by Mauldin and Jenkins is taking longer than expected, and the accounting firm has requested more time to verify the number of older streetlights still in the field. The audit is expected to be finished by July 21, she said.

"Part of the reason driving this is just the massive amount of data that’s involved," she said, adding that in some instances the billing information goes back more than 50 years. "There’s no intent on our part to delay this, but we do want to make sure that it’s accurate and right."

EPB oversees approximately 26,000 streetlights for the city of Chattanooga. Earlier this month, Chairman Joe Ferguson and CEO Harold DePriest announced the audit after questions arose on the publicly owned utility company’s billing to the city.

The company thinks it has overstated the number of older mercury vapor streetlights still in the field. Those lights would use more electricity than newer high-pressure sodium lights, but they would also have lower facilities charges—the long-term cost of a fixture and its maintenance cost—associated with them. The net result could mean that Chattanooga has been overbilled for electricity usage, but underbilled for facilities charges. DePriest said EPB notified the city of the situation last year.

"It winds up being just about a wash," he said. "The issue there is we’re dealing with something that’s happened over a period of three decades. We’re going to find some mistakes, but what you’re going to discover is that the higher cost of the light more than offsets" the electricity cost.

The audit is the second review of EPB’s streetlight billing from Mauldin and Jenkins. The firm’s first review looked at a sample of Chattanooga streetlights. If its earlier projection holds, the city could end up owing the utility company money.

The report also coincides with one being done by Chattanooga Auditor Stan Sewell. Gregg said part of the delay stems from trying to collaborate with Sewell’s office.

"If we can avoid it, we want to not have dueling audit reports," she said. "Dueling auditors sounds pretty awful to me, so if we can get to the right place where everybody’s in agreement, I think that’s the best outcome."

Also on Thursday, board members approved EPB’s operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

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