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County to refund fees for backflow tests that weren't performed

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Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 9:54 pm | Updated: 9:11 pm, Wed May 8, 2013.

SARASOTA, Fla. - More than 10,000 Sarasota County residents will soon be finding a little extra money in the mail. They're being refunded for services they paid for, but never received.

The issue has to do with water backflow devices; a valve in your yard that prevents water from flowing out of your home and back into the main water line.

The devices have to be tested once a year, either by the county or by an independent company. And while many county residents paid $2.50 a month extra on their water bill for the county to test the devices, it never happened.

Now the county is issuing refunds totaling more than half a million dollars.

"I just happened to call and say ‘if I'm paying for this, have they been doing the inspections?’ He had said they were supposed to have been done, and that I would have a tag hanging on the backflow," says county utility customer Jay Bowman.

But he didn't find any tag. "He did some checking and found out that several of them hadn't been done in my neighborhood."

It turns out that quite a few more than that hadn't been tested.

“We actually discovered that, back at the end of last year, and after doing a thorough research, we found that we had that problem. It was a computer glitch on our side," says Jodi Kirkman, Sarasota County’s environmental utilities director.

Records show that last year, 8,457 customers didn't receive testing from the county which they had paid for. In the years prior to 2012, that number was 2,750.

As a result, Sarasota County is paying more than $557,000 back to customers who paid for services and never got them.

"We have since corrected that computer glitch. The software issue has been resolved, the testing program is back in order…we feel that the system is okay now," says Kirkman.

Bowman says he got a refund within two weeks of discovering the problem. “I couldn’t understand how they could do a program like this and set it in motion and then not follow up with it. And I just think it lacked oversight."

As of March 1st there are around 2,000 customers that still need to be reimbursed. The county is working on that, but again they say they have the problem fixed.

If homeowners have questions about this issue, they are asked to contact the Sarasota County Utilities department.

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