West Fargo city commissioners discuss scope of issues in 'embarrassing' utility billing errors

"Did anyone know the extent," Commissioner Roben Anderson said. "Did everyone know the detail of what was out there, the different categories of what was out there?"

West Fargo water tower
West Fargo water tower.
Special to The Forum

WEST FARGO —The West Fargo City Commission dove into the city's utility billing errors at its Monday, May 15 meeting after a Forum analysis of figures uncovered the underbilling that resulted in a $1.25 million loss in taxpayer money.

Commissioner Roben Anderson asked the commission to discuss The Forum article published May 10 as part of the commission's regular agenda. Anderson pointed to the issue that he and other commissioners had not been alerted to the scope of issues and the amount of potential lost revenue to the city prior to the article's publication.

West Fargo city officials discovered this year that some properties had been overbilled, underbilled or, in some cases, not billed at all for up to years at a time for city utilities such as water, garbage, and sewer service.

This included an estimated $1.4 million undercharge for water and sewer use by Cargill, one of the city's largest water users. The company has agreed to pay about $509,000 of that amount, but not the remainder.

West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis
David Samson / The Forum

"How broad the errors were is embarrassing to anybody and everybody involved," Mayor Bernie Dardis said. "This is beyond comprehension of how this mess got to this point. This is so deep and went for so long. It stems from previous commissions as well."


Anderson said he found a lot of the information from the article interesting. "We all kind of knew there was an issue, but did anyone know the extent? Did everyone know the detail of what was out there, the different categories of what was out there," Anderson asked.

Commissioners Mandy George, Brad Olson and Mark Simmons, along with Mayor Bernie Dardis signaled that they all had been made aware of a potential $2 million billing error and then told that it was paid back.

While commissioners said they were made aware of an issue, Anderson said The Forum article uncovered further details. “A lot of information was lacking, that became apparent with the May 10 article,” he said.

Commissioner Simmons pointed to the fact that Cargill only repaid some of its $1.4 million it was underbilled due in part to an inaccurate utility meter.

”Who made that decision that we weren’t going to recharge," Dardis said. "Because no one up here made that decision."

Public Works Director Matt Andvik confirmed that he had proof that Cargill was undercharged that amount.

"If we have proof, why wouldn’t we go back for the whole ($1.4) million?" Simmons said.

City Attorney John Shockley said he was not aware of any contract to absolve Cargill from repaying additional underbilled amounts, but he would investigate the matter further and return to the commission to move forward.


Andvik said the issues were uncovered as his department prepared for a sanitation study to be returned in July. Any discovered issues of underbilling or overbilling were forwarded to then City Administrator Tina Fisk and former Finance Director Judy Afdahl.

According to city emails obtained by The Forum, Afdahl reached out by phone to the Cargill plant manager and the company agreed to pay for the underbilled water usage between Feb. 1, 2021, and Dec. 1, 2022, for a total of $509,652.

Cargill plant manager Michael Gregoryk said in an email to Afdahl that the company would pay $509,652 and the matter would be considered settled.

Afdahl reported the agreement with Cargill to Fisk as well as then Assistant City Administrator Dustin Scott, who's now interim city administrator, and Andvik.

Three women in the finance department were fired from the city by Fisk shortly after the billing issues were reported. Fisk later resigned March 15 and Afdahl has also since left the city.

Shockley on Monday cautioned commissioners to discuss any personnel issues related to the billing topic.

"I would avoid talking about any of the personnel that were involved in it," he said. “We’re seeing potential litigation there."

City staff is also taking additional steps to ensure better communication between staff and the commission. Andvik said a new meter was installed Friday, May 12, at Cargill that will help prevent future issues.


Dardis said while commissioners may not have examined line item billings before, they certainly will moving forward and that policies and procedures will be put in place to prevent similar situations in the future.

Commissioner Olson said while the commission was previously briefed on the billing problems, it shows the need for commissioners to take additional steps.

"As officials we have to take responsibility to ask more questions," Olson said.

Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum.
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