That might be the response from local natural gas customers who open their next bill from the Lenoir City Utilities Board.
In a letter sent to customers Jan. 25, the utility announced it had discovered a billing error for natural gas bills issued in December.
Shannon Littleton, LCUB manager, said natural gas bills are divided into two parts: an operational and maintenance cost, along with the cost of the natural gas itself, which fluctuates each month based on the price from the provider.
In December, the purchase gas adjustment cost for natural gas was entered incorrectly into the utility's billing system. The gas cost that was keyed into the system was $0.06968. The amount should have been $0.6968.
The natural gas portion of the bill is tabulated by multiplying the hundreds of cubic feet of gas by the purchase gas adjustment cost. If a customer's current bill was $4.50, the correct amount would be $45.
Littleton said about 4,500 residential and commercial customers would be affected by the billing error. LCUB still has to pay its provider, Tennessee Natural Gas, for the consumed amount of gas. The utility plans a one-time adjustment on customers’ bills this month for the discrepancy. For those who need assistance, LCUB will arrange for customers to pay the difference over time without penalty.
"I'm very sad that this happened," Littleton said. “"I apologize to our customers, and we take this very seriously. In our letter, we made it clear that if it causes a burden, we'll make arrangements where this doesn't have to be paid immediately."
Littleton said the utility was taking steps to ensure the error does not happen again, including having multiple people inspect the rate before bills hit the mail. Although an outside agency that assists with billing was technically responsible for the error, Littleton said he was shouldering the blame.
"I'm going to take personal responsibility for it," he said. "But there was several steps that it had gone through that it should have been detected. Obviously, the buck stops here. It should have been detected by me or somebody internally higher up here. It's one of those things, it just got through the system."
The billing error amounts to about $300,000 that LCUB has to pass along to Tennessee Natural Gas. LCUB bills the same rate for gas as Tennessee Natural charges.
Littleton didn't anticipate that the money would have any negative effects on utility operations.
"To make a long story short, gas departments all over the country operate this way," he said. "They make all their money, if you will, on revenue during the cold part of the year, and then they barely get by, for lack of a better term, through the remainder of the year just doing operation and maintenance on the system."
He said the utility was prepared for fluctuations in revenue.
"We are prepared for things that happen, cold events, warm events," he said. "So, it's not going to have a significant impact, especially if most of the customers pay, it's going to be fine. It will not cause an impact whatsoever financially for LCUB."
Littleton said the utility had received some calls from customers about the billing error, but many were understanding.
"Most customers that I've been hearing of today that have had the explanation, they fully understand, and they're just glad that we notified them by letter and giving them a heads up before their bill came around next month," he said.