CEDAR — Merchant marine Kevin Lopez spends months at a time away from his Cedar home.
So when it comes to paying for propane, he wants to buy the fuel once a year and be done with it.
But Lopez discovered that paying up-front for propane isn't as simple as it might seem in northern Michigan. On two separate occasions with two different propane providers, he paid for propane up-front for the year, only to receive additional charges on his propane bill.
"I told them, 'I want the total bill,' " a frustrated Lopez said. "I want to pay up-front. I'm gone and I only wanted to do this once a year."
Lopez previously worked as a truck driver for Shell propane and was a residential customer of Amerigas for about four years. When he ordered propane, he told the company he wanted to pay for all his propane and not receive any more bills.
Yet every year, he said, he received bills from the company, complete with an annual lock-in fee of $125. The company billed him to set the price of propane, even though he never agreed to the charge and didn't want to lock in his propane price.
Lopez was able to get the fee waved every year, but he questions why he was automatically billed for something he never signed up for.
"They never did stop doing it," Lopez said.
Amerigas President Jerry Sheridan said the lock-in fee is a necessary expense billed only to customers who want to guarantee the price of propane. The charge is necessary because the company faces extensive risk in hedging on the price of propane, which in turn allows customers to lock in the price.
If Lopez did not want to lock in the price, Sheridan said, he may have been confronted with a simple billing error. Bill Katz, an Amerigas vice president, said if customers request participation in a fixed-price program, their renewal is automatic unless they no longer want to participate.
The company works hard to inform customers of new prices for propane and give 30 days to decide if they want to cancel the decision to lock-in their propane price, he said.
"Even if they cancel 30 days after the due date, we honor the cancellation and return any fees paid," Katz said.
Lopez said he recently switched to Hamilton Gas and requested to pay his full bill with no additional charges.
"I told them I wanted to pay up front and be done with it," Lopez said.
Lopez paid $1,456.74 for a batch of propane in October and figured he was covered until it ran out. Weeks later, he received a bill from Hamilton for an additional 50 gallons of fuel beyond what he paid.
The company said the 50 gallons of fuel had to be in the tank when it was filled for safety reasons. Lopez protested.
"I said, 'I'm not paying this,'" Lopez recounted.
Late fees were tacked on and he eventually received a letter warning him his propane service would be shut off. After going back and forth with Hamilton, he said an employee told him they would come out and remove the 50 gallons he was being charged and the fee was waived.
"Then she told me when that tank is empty, you can go get your propane somewhere else," Lopez said.
A Hamilton Gas official called the incident an unfortunate miscommunication between the company and Lopez regarding the 50 gallon-charge, and the company waived the charges. Bob Fenton, regional manager for Hamilton, said the employee's comment to Lopez about getting his propane elsewhere was a reference to Lopez's unwillingness to sign a lease for service, which is necessary for propane billing.
"Through this point of miscommunication, we have to take the responsibility for it," Fenton said. "The responsibility is always on the communicator — not necessarily the listener."
Fenton said the company is diligent in maintaining positive relationships with its customers. Hamilton offers all kinds of payment options, including budget payment plans for struggling customers.
"My goal is to work out every credit issue we can," Fenton said.
The office of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is the recipient of consumer complaints about propane companies. His office did not respond to two separate calls for comment.
Lopez wants to pay for fuel once a year, continues to be billed
CEDAR — Merchant marine Kevin Lopez spends months at a time away from his Cedar home.
Weather Service: Lows in single digits next week
A cold front is sweeping through the nation on an unusually large scale, but the Great Lakes are protecting Traverse City from the lowest temperatures, which reached zero degrees in states like the Dakotas.Continued ...
Murder suspect has criminal past
Jason Anthony Ryan, newly charged in the 1996 rape and murder of Kalkaska resident Geraldine Montgomery, is no stranger to the criminal justice system.Continued ...
Sidewalk shoveling debate heats up
Ben Hansen and Chris Bazzett left their Traverse City home for a short walk downtown on the busiest shopping weekend of the year, but they had to walk down the middle of the street to get there.Continued ...
Quarter scheduling proposed
Officials at Traverse City Area Public Schools are practicing their fractions as they play with the district’s high school schedules.Continued ...
Antrim drug probe ends with 31 convictions
A string of Antrim County overdose deaths prompted a four-year drug trafficking probe that netted 31 convictions.Continued ...
Stowe sentenced to jail
Cynthia Stowe’s tearful apology and admission that she has an alcohol problem couldn’t keep her out of jail.Continued ...
- Wednesday, December 4, 2013
GT County board rejects 2014 budget
Grand Traverse County remains without a 2014 budget.Continued ...
Coming Thursday: Stowe sentenced to jail
Cynthia Stowe's tearful apology and admission that she has an alcohol problem couldn't keep her out of jail.Continued ...
Strikes planned at Michigan fast-food restaurants
Workers are expected to walk off their jobs Thursday at fast-food restaurants across Michigan as part of a national protest in 100 cities against low wages.Continued ...
Man charged in 1996 slaying of Kalkaska woman
Jason Anthony Ryan lived as a free man for 17 years after a heinous Kalkaska County crime. Ryan’s days of freedom ended Monday after authorities said new DNA tests link him with the 1996 murder of Geraldine Montgomery, 68, who died of asphyxiation after at least one attacker raped her, stuffed her into the trunk of her car and left the vehicle running.Continued ...
Estes sentenced to 18 months probation
Michael Estes’ drunken driving case ended with a judge handing down a sentence crafted to help Traverse City’s mayor “better” his life through 18 months of probation and alcohol treatment programs.Continued ...
Wettest fall on record gives way to abnormal cold
Rain, snow and clouds were more than seemingly endless during the three fall months in northwest Michigan — they also were record setting.Continued ...
Board picks new Benzie County administrator
Beulah resident Karl Sparks hadn’t adjusted well to retirement’s relative inaction.Continued ...
Thrift shop invites kids to shop for family members
Kids are invited to shop for their family at an upcoming Secret Santa Shopping Day at the Women’s Resource Center Thrift Shop.Continued ...
Bats considered for endangered listing
Michigan is one of four states east of the Dakotas free of white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease that targets a nocturnal, flying mammal.Continued ...
- Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Coming Wednesday: Man charged in 1996 slaying of Kalkaska woman
Jason Anthony Ryan lived as a free man for 17 years after a heinous Kalkaska County crime.Continued ...
Grand Traverse to hold pension bond hearings
The Grand Traverse County Commission will host public hearings on the 2014 budget and a proposal to borrow more than $40 million to cover pension obligation costs during a committee meeting Wednesday night.Continued ...
Police make arrest in 1996 murder
A man is expected to be arraigned today on charges tied to the 1996 rape and murder of a woman in Kalkaska County.Continued ...
Estes sentenced to probation
A judge sentenced Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes to 18 months probation for driving while impaired.Continued ...
GT board: Open meeting violations?
Grand Traverse County’s governing board is under fire for limiting public comment at a contentious budget meeting attended by scores of citizens.Continued ...
GT County deer harvest down
The bucks dropped here. Actually, it’s true of both does and bucks: the Michigan Department of Natural Resources says hunters in Grand Traverse County alone reported 42 percent fewer deer killed this year compared to last year.Continued ...
Citizens turn out to support tribe
One of the first things Holly Thompson’s son noticed about the new Clinch Park was how it had erased any mention of his Native American history.Continued ...
One arrested in Leelanau vehicle thefts
A string of Leelanau County vehicle thefts and larcenies led to a Mount Pleasant man’s arrest and a statewide manhunt for another suspect.Continued ...
Clearing the Record: 12/03/2013
Because of incorrect information provided to the Record-Eagle, the amount of a grant awarded to Traverse City by the Great Lakes Fishery Trust was incorrect in a Nov. 23 story, and the trust's name was misspelled.Continued ...
- Monday, December 2, 2013
Girls Basketball: St. Francis wins season opener (with video)
The St. Francis Gladiators started the 2013-14 season with a 47-23 win over Harbor Springs tonight in the Katie Heintz Keep Believing Tip-off Tournament.Continued ...
- Weather Service: Lows in single digits next week