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Call Kurtis: City Admits Overcharging Some Customers For Trash Cans

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Eight-time Emmy Award winner Kurtis Ming is CBS13's consumer...
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MANTECA (CBS13) — Rolling his trash can to the curb, Phil Lavoie can’t help but feel frustrated.

Lavoie learned last year the City of Manteca has been charging him about $4.50 too much each month for the past six years for trash service — in total, more than $300 he believes he should get back.

“This isn’t right,” he said. “Someone should be held accountable.”

Lavoie said his monthly bill fails to list what size of trash can he was given to use, simply listing “REFUSE” at a cost of $30.02.

It wasn’t until he received a pamphlet from the city he said he realized the City offered three tiers of trash cans — 32 gallons, 64 gallons and 96 gallons — and he was being charged for the highest 96-gallon tier instead of the 64-gallon he’s had the whole time.

“Someone in [the City of Manteca's] department put a wrong number down,” he said. “And I’m paying for it.”

While the City of Manteca admitted the overcharge, it said the law prevents them from returning the majority of that money. Rather than refunding Lavoie for six years, the City claims it can only refund for 12 months.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Lavoie said. “You guys made the mistake. If I didn’t pay for six years, what would happen to me?”

The City of Manteca refused to interview on camera but told Call Kurtis it has received three similar complaints from customers who found the mistake. It claims those are coincidentally the only other customers erroneously charged.

“Generally you’re only gonna go back one year,” said consumer attorney Stuart Talley of the state’s statue of limitations on refunds.

Talley said the City of Manteca is not required to refund money collected more than a year ago — but he said that doesn’t mean it can’t.

“There is no legal prohibition against that,” he said.

Call Kurtis asked the City’s Suzeanne Mallory whether it would refund of credit the customers affected, including Lavoie, going back more than 12 months.

The city ignored that question saying any refund of more than 12 months “would constitute a gift of public funds.”

Lavoie doesn’t think that’s right.

He received a refund of about $50 for his past year of overpayments, but he’s not happy he’s been unknowingly throwing his money away for years.

“I’m just wanting to put this out there,” he said, “Maybe the other citizens of Manteca can check their bill.”

Lavoie said he think he would have caught the error earlier if the city itemized trash services on his monthly bill instead of just showing “REFUSE.”

The City of Manteca told Call Kurtis it is now updating its billing system to be itemized and show which trash service people are being charged for.

FULL STATEMENT — CITY OF MANTECA

As a general law city, the City of Manteca is bound by the legislative authority as set for in the California Government Code. The guidelines and statute regarding claims against public entities is set forth in section 911.2(a) of the California Government Code. This section was reviewed by the City Attorney’s Office as it pertained to the claim set forth by Mr. Lavoie. Based on this section, the City of Manteca has determined it has the authority to refund one year of the billing difference from the date the City was made aware of the error by Mr. Lavoie. If the claimant can provide authority to go back for a longer period of time, the City will take that into to consideration as we review the claim.

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