Dispute over $6.8 million: City of Detroit says local businesses owe its lighting department

DETROIT (WXYZ) - 7 Action News has obtained a list of dozens of corporate customers that the City of Detroit says collectively owe more than $6.8 million to its lighting department.

Included in the list of 31 customers is Horace Sheffield's non-profit Detroit Association of Black Organizations. The nonprofit owes $243,153, according to the City of Detroit, which has turned off the nonprofit's lights. Sheffield is running for Congress against U.S. Representative John Conyers.

Also, on the list is Wayne State University, which owes more than $2.5 million, according to the city record. But  WSU Communications Director Matthew Lockwood says they dispute the bill and do not owe it.

Lockwood says the city lighting department tacked on a surcharge in November because it had undercharged the university in the past. Lockwood says that doubled WSU's bill. He also says that they pay their lighting bill is not delinquent and is paid in full each month.

Others also dispute their delinquent lighting bill, including the Detroit-Wayne Joint Building Authority (DWJBA), which owns and operates the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

Gregg McDuffee is the Executive Director of the DWJBA and says that they also received a surcharge in November, which doubled their lighting bill to more than $395,000. He says the city claims it is passing on a cost that they are entitled to charge. But the DWJBA has sent several protest letters, arguing the charge is not valid. McDuffey also says the DWJBA pays its bills on time and in full each month.

Detroit Receiving Hospital owes more than $1.8 million, according to the City of Detroit. We put a call into the hospital, but have not heard back.

7 Action News contacted the city regarding the alleged delinquent lighting department accounts. The city says they do not comment on specific accounts, but that all of the customers on the list of 31 that they provided are at least 60 days in arrears.

In a written statement the city also says that it, "...has attempted to work with these customers to collect the money that is owed to the city and several businesses have come forward to work out a payment arrangement.

This collection process is separate from that of the Detroit Water and Sewer Department and affects only business customers of Detroit's Public Lighting Department that are more than one year behind in their bills. 

We invite businesses that may be at risk of having its power shut off due to non-payment to contact us immediately to work out a payment plan."

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