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.
TC man's Mustang turns 50
Ed Mucha always drives slow as he passes the front of the Hagerty Insurance headquarters. It's a habit the long-time car guy and retired tool maker kept for years.Continued ...
S-E-X: How to talk the talk
Good news: “The Big Sex Talk” — that awkward conversation between kids and parents — is obsolete.Continued ...
Solving the world's problems in class
Traverse City West Senior High School students work to solve the world’s problems in Charles Rennie’s honors Model United Nations class.Continued ...
NMC board to address OMA allegations
Northwestern Michigan College trustees on Monday will discuss allegations they violated state open meetings laws. But they might do so behind closed doors.Continued ...
Local officials: Email no way to conduct public business
Local government officials expressed surprise and concern over a newspaper report that Northwestern Michigan College trustees may have violated state law when they used email and other non-public means to deliberate and decide a proposal to videotape their meetings.Continued ...
Mancelona's story similar, unique
This Antrim County community’s story mirrors those of many small towns. Industry boomed. Franchised stores shot up, mom-and-pops struggled to compete. Industry left, commerce sufferedContinued ...
Dems drum up opposition for Leelanau seats
Republicans dominated the Leelanau County ballot for years, but they’ll have some company this year.Continued ...
Betsie River, Crystal Lake to be part of watershed management plan
It’s all about groundwater. So said Ed Hoogterp. He’s the former president of the Crystal Lake and Watershed Association who spearheads work on a watershed management plan for the area that runs east of Interlochen to the Frankfort lighthouse.Continued ...
- Saturday, April 19, 2014
Plane returns to Cherry Capital
A Delta Airlines flight returned to Cherry Capital Airport minutes after takeoff because of a problem with the plane’s landing gear.Continued ...
Theory and neighbors' sentiment collide on rezoning
TRAVERSE CITY -- City commissioners face a choice between following their housing ideology or bowing to residents who call a proposed development of four mid-priced houses both ludicrous and dangerous. Architect John Kerridge proposes to construct foContinued ...
Blair Elementary has new leader
Blair Elementary has new leader TRAVERSE CITY -- Blair Elementary School has a new leader in place for next school year. Traverse City Area Public Schools administrators selected Kirsten Jones-Morgan to replace Sharon Dionne, who will retire July 1.Continued ...
Leelanau Peninsula Chamber to get new website
Leelanau Chamber to get new website TRAVERSE CITY -- It's time for a makeover for the Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce's website. Leelanau County Commissioners voted to allocate up to $10,000 in 2 percent grant money earmarked for economic devContinued ...
19th century skull returned to Band for ceremony
TRAVERSE CITY -- One Leelanau County family heirloom will no longer be passed down to the next generation. Sheriff Mike Borkovich said a family who did not want to be named gave his office a human skull that had been in the family for years. An elderContinued ...
- Friday, April 18, 2014
Flight returns to Cherry Capital
Attorney files for reorganization
TRAVERSE CITY -- A prominent Traverse City attorney's law practice remains open after he sought bankruptcy protection amid a lengthy and potentially costly legal battle with a former client. Clarence Gomery, of Gomery Law Offices, said his April 2 baContinued ...
Kalkaska fire destroys rentals
TRAVERSE CITY -- Fire tore through an apartment building in the south end of the Village of Kalkaska. Kalkaska County Sheriff David Israel said he didn't think anyone was seriously injured or killed in the Thursday afternoon blaze, but the entire buiContinued ...
Kalkaska County Board Chair to resign
TRAVERSE CITY -- Kalkaska County's longest-serving commissioner will resign at the end of the month. Debra Kimball, who represents Kalkaska Township, but not the village, stepped down from her position as board chair at a meeting Tuesday night. She mContinued ...
Caldwell sentenced in woman's death
TRAVERSE CITY -- A Traverse City man who said he accidentally shot his girlfriend to death in a failed suicide attempt will serve a sentence of about 11.5 to 19 years, the maximum sentence. Robert Lee-Allen Caldwell, 33, plead guilty to involuntary mContinued ...
Acme decision: Lovett or leave it
TRAVERSE CITY -- Lyle Lovett concert posters decorate bulletin boards throughout Traverse City, but that may be as close as the country music artist and actor gets to town, if promoters can't swing a zoning permit. Lovett and His Large Band are schedContinued ...
GT board picks Gourdie-Fraser as engineer firm for county
TRAVERSE CITY -- Grand Traverse County's Board of Public Works selected the local firm that designed and built the county's long-troubled septage treatment plant to serve as its engineer of record for the next three years. Gourdie-Fraser Inc. beat ouContinued ...
Second NMC stabbing suspect pleads guilty
BY SARAH ELMS email@example.com Second NMC stabbing suspect pleads guiltyContinued ...
- Thursday, April 17, 2014
Emails show NMC leaders made decisions outside public meetings
Northwestern Michigan College’s elected officials debated in a flurry of emails whether to televise their monthly board meetings, a behind-the-scenes decision-making process that altered some trustees’ public opposition and occurred outside the public eye.Continued ...
NMC president's email to college staff
Northwestern Michigan College President Tim Nelson sent the following email to college employees Tuesday afternoon:Continued ...
Michigan's Open Meetings Act
State lawmakers created Michigan’s Open Meetings Act to strengthen citizens’ ability to know what goes on in government, according to an OMA guide published by Michigan’s attorney general.Continued ...
Consultant: Architecture great, traffic a problem
Heads shook and shoulders drooped as the group approached one of the last stops on a tour of Eighth Street in Traverse City: the brick and barn-red sheet metal walls of an auto parts warehouse.Continued ...
- TC man's Mustang turns 50