Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Didn’t see this coming……(Part II of II)

“We’re gonna boogie back to Texas, eight beats to the mile” – from the song, Boogie Back to Texas, by Ray Benson & Asleep At The Wheel

- - - -
NOTE:  This was written some months ago, but since nothing has ever been forthcoming from either ICE or the Tico Times, all of it still holds true.
- - - - - - -
Regarding the January bill for electricity, a breakdown of the bill showed a total of 1,489 Kwh used, from 01/01 to 02/01, with meter readings of 013514 – before, to 015003 – after, and included taxes of 10, 994.80.  To be fair, I had discovered a problem during January with the electric water heater that I repaired towards the end of the month.  (I had to replace the pressure relief valve, because it was stuck in an open position, causing the heater to be constantly heating).  I had hoped that this problem would have proven to be the cause for such a sudden jump in one month’s usage.  I no longer see that as even close to possible.  As an update, our bill for the month of February (paid on April 1) was only 12,000.00, so we thought whatever problem had occurred had now been fixed, and that the huge amount was simply a reader error.  Wrong!  Checking online in late April, the new bill, for the month of March, had jumped back up to 205,000.00 again!  We went back to ICE, and then had to wait for any further action from them, until after Holy Week, and ultimately, even longer.  That was because the administrator of the local ICE office took an extra two weeks of vacation, so we ended up waiting until the week of May 9.  This is because no one in this God-forsaken backwater is willing to ever accept any responsibility for any damn thing!  That means, that when the boss is out, there is no one to step up in his place.  And, of course, even he, upon his return, is not willing or able to do anything that doesnt strictly follow whatever interpretation of the rules that he understands.
So, putting this unfortunate mess together with all the other problems we have been having here in paradise, this question has arisen:  Anybody want to buy a beautiful view?
As of 05/23/2011:  I had been walking up to the light meter once a day for the previous 40 days, noting the reading, and then putting it down on a list that I have created on the PC.  I have also totaled up all of our bills from the first month we moved into this house, and compiled monthly usage, in KwH, and amount paid out for those twenty months.  We have been charged for using an average of 773.1 KwH per month, or 25.77 KwH  per day.  Over the 40 days of my direct monitoring, our use is averaging only 16.3 KwH per day, which would be a total of only 489 KwH in thirty days, well below what we have been paying all along.  We are doing nothing different over these last 40 days than we had done over the previous twenty months, in terms of electrical usage here in the house.  Granted, there have been times when we ran the air conditioner (a wall unit) for short periods, but we are not currently using that, and haven’t for some time.  Other than that, the fridge is plugged in all day and all night, we use the washer and the dryer as needed, we use various ceiling fans, and so on……..oh, we are now turning off the water heater for all but about one hour a day.
When ICE’s meter reader reported his monthly reading, as of May 02, his total usage for the month of April came in at 591, also well under the average we have been paying all this time.  Since my daily recording did not begin until April 14, I also believe that this in and of itself is pretty conclusive proof that consumption prior to my securing of the meter box and prior to my now daily meter reading was indeed above our current average.  Not to mention, that I have to conclude that our real consumption was always below the amount that was being billed to us.
Now, to further clarify matters (or, maybe muddy the waters; I don’t know), you should know how our electricity gets to our house.  When we paid our contractor to run electric, water and phone to our property, back in late 2008, it was with the understanding that the lines would run underground, and for lights and phone, they would come from our neighbor’s property.  To affect the electric hook up, our contractor had to place our meter on a pole on our neighbor’s property.  This means that what we paid for, and were presented with, was one metal box (paid for by us) with two meters in it.  Our line runs from our meter, straight underground.  The metal box has two doors that meet in the middle.  What we realized in April is that those doors had been open for months, as long as we could remember.  We never opened those doors, and it never occurred to me to place any particular significance on the fact that those doors were wide open, and had been that way since I don’t know when.
So, I am facing one logical (to me) conclusion here:  somehow we have been over billed by at least $100.00 per month, give or take, for the last twenty months (yeah, that’s about two grand).  I have no idea of whether that is because somehow our electricity has just disappeared into thin air, somewhere between the neighbor’s property, and our house, or someone has been ‘borrowing’ our electricity (our meter does sit on someone else’s land, out of sight of our house, so the ‘borrower’ could easily hook on right at the meter), or maybe ICE’s meter reader has a way to affect the output of our meter.????  I don’t know………have no clue……….
We have met several times with the ‘coordinator’ of the local office, and other than trying to pin the blame on something in our house that is using too much juice, his only concern is how are we going to pay this outrageous bill.  We have talked to him until we are blue in the face, trying to get across that it is not possible that we have used this much juice, trying to get across that it is simply unconscionable for him to expect us to pay for electricity we never used, and that the amount is simply too much for folks on a pension.  I suppose that what is most frustrating about his response is that he appears to be agreeable to our face, stating that he understands what we are saying, but ultimately, he has made absolutely no effort to accommodate us, or to appease us, or to help us.
We even went to see the main guy in nearby Tilaran, at the suggestion of our Priest.  That guy only referred us to the controloria (not sure what the English language/gringo version of this would be, but it’s for complaints and resolution of same) of ICE, who - he says - will give us satisfaction.  So, we called them on May 9 or 10, and tried to give them the whole story.  They said that they would investigate and have a response for us within ten days……………………
The morning after our visit to Tilaran, the ‘coordinator’ of the local office showed up at our house, before we even finished breakfast, along with a tech (who waited for him in the official company truck; he was obviously serving as driver, as per my earlier impressions of this fine organization – see my Blog entry of Wednesday, January 5, 2011, titled:  The Spy Who Came For Dinner (and never left), or The Men From I. C. E).  He told us that he couldn’t sleep the night before for worrying about our situation, and he offered us all sorts of verbal reassurances that he would try to help to resolve our situation.  He wanted to see the water heater, and tried – as do they all – to focus our attention on something within the house being some sort of energy hog.  We both pretty much gave it to him with both barrels, but ultimately had no idea what he thought he was going to do.  He did say that he looked at the meter (I doubt it) and found it to be just fine, with no signs of any sort of tampering.  He tried to say that maybe there is some sort of ‘artifact’ that is intermittently using up too much energy.  I, of course, countered by showing him my printout of the daily meter readings, with their new and much lower average daily use as compared to all the many months since we moved in here.  I offered my opinion that there are probably not even any businesses around here that consume as much energy as we have been billed for over these months.
As of May 23, we received a visit early in the morning from a technician from ICE, who wanted to deliver a letter from Mario, that coordinator at the local ICE office.  We refused delivery, although I did manage to make a copy of the letter.  Essentially, he repeats again that the meter is OK, is well secured (my bad; I was the one who secured the damn thing, back on April 14, remember?  And, incidentally, he knows that fact, because we told him.  As a matter of fact, I asked him repeatedly both in his office, and at our house, why had his meter reader never reported that the meter was not secured, and/or why his meter reader had not secured the meter, but he never once answered me).  His letter also noted that we have a lot of appliances and devices in our house that (obviously) use a lot of electricity.  Apparently, taking a twist on the famous Latin quote (OK, I think it was originally expressed in French by DesCarte as "Je pense, donc ju suis), “cogito, ergo sum,” he has concluded that these things exist, therefore we must be using them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Again, all he wanted is for us to pay the frickin’ bill.  So, we did, borrowing the money from a friend.
I have contacted the Tico Times, hoping that they might be interested in doing an article about this situation, and one of their staff writers is apparently gathering information, but so far…….nada………no response has been received from the Controloria; the letter from Mario is dated May 16, by the way, even though he didn’t try to get it delivered until May 23.  As of August 7, today, there has still been nothing from The Tico Times.
So, here we are.  No longer waiting on tenterhooks for something over which we have absolutely no control; we did wait for ICE to do something, but obviously they have another cash cow here (new math in Costa Rica:  Gringo = $$$).  We find ourselves becoming more and more suspicious of everybody, every day.  We feel that we are no longer able to trust anyone around us – not our neighbors, not our supposed Tico friends, definitely not anyone in any ‘official’ position with ICE.  Our dream of the Pura Vida is pretty much gone, and we will indeed gladly sell out and go back to Texas, if we can just find someone who is better able to cope with all this than we have proven to be.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Didn't See This Coming (Not so soon, anyway!)

Rule No. 1:  Never lose money.
Rule No. 2:  Never forget rule No. 1.  ~ Warren Buffet

NOTE:  This was written some months ago, and has already appeared at Top 10 Costa Rica.  Things have not changed since I wrote it, and ICE has never responded to our complaints, nor have the folks at Tico Times ever followed through, despite numerous emails to the editor and the assigned reporter.
(Part I of II)
When we started the process of applying for residence here in Cost Rica as pensionados, one of the provisions with which we had to comply was to show proof of a monthly income (pension) of at least Six Hundred Dollars ($600.00).  We were able to do this, and that fact alone helped us to be well on the way to legal residence by the time it became necessary for us to actually move here (check back on old posts on my blog to see the sequence of events).
We knew, as does anyone anticipating retirement, that one day we would be faced with the reality of an ever rising cost of living, while our income remained at whatever level it began.  That is what is meant by the term, ‘fixed income.’  The sad fact of life that we have now had to face is that it already appears that the rising cost has started much sooner than anticipated, and in a place where we thought we would be somewhat protected – Cost Rica.  You see, when we started that process, the cost of living was pretty reasonable here.  But, sadly, that is no longer the case.
One of the things we used to brag about to friends and family back in the states, and one of the major factors in our belief that the cost of living was reasonable here was that – for many years – electricity was cheap here.  Guess what?  Not only is it no longer cheap, but the cost of electricity was already too high by the time we arrived here in late April of 2009.  Worse, it continues to climb and there is no rational explanation for this.
The reality is that Ticos still do not make much money themselves.  The reality is that every business of any size that I have ever seen in this country employs way too many workers.  The reality is that I have yet to observe any truly efficient organization in operation in this country.  The reality is that Costa Rica brags to the world about its ‘soon-to-be-reached-goal’ of carbon neutrality, while blithely overusing pesticides and herbicides at a truly staggering rate.  The reality is that Costa Rica – despite truly draconian laws to regulate these things – allows a multitude of over-polluting vehicles to ply its very bad roads, highways, streets, and byways.  The reality is that everything costs too much here!
First, did you know that nationwide there is a 13% sales tax in place?  On each and every single item purchased across the entire nation!  I’ll bet you that is just about the highest you will find anywhere!  Second, did you know that just about every item one might want to purchase in a hardware store, or an electronics store, or a department store, or a novelty store, or a variety store, or even a ‘big box’ store has to be imported into the country?  (And, worse, most of the stuff sold in these stores is imported from China, so you can imagine the quality of the goods).  Because of that importation, you should be aware that Costa Rica imposes large import duties and taxes, and – of course – you, the consumer, have to pay for the transportation costs.
To go back to the lack of efficient organizations here, I know that I have touched on this before, but you should be aware that it is not possible for a new business owner to operate efficiently because Federal law requires that job duties be very sharply defined and limited.  That is why it is necessary to deal with three people in order to purchase one small item in a hardware store, or any of the others listed above.  Now, some family businesses can get away with only the business owner dealing with customers, but that is always going to be a small business, where you are likely to make only one purchase at a time, anyway.
The goal that I have been heading towards here today is this:  Remember that magic $600.00 income level that has to be proved each month?  Well, it is reaching the point where we should be able to do this by showing the folks at Immigration (when it is time to renew our cedulas) just one monthly receipt, the one for electricity.  For the month of January our light bill hit 235,983.00 (that’s $471.97 at 500 to the dollar, but since the dollar continues to fall, it was more like $476.00 at the time I paid the bill).
That is frighteningly close to the amount I have to be able to prove having changed, and suggests that serious measures need to be taken to avoid total disaster.  I keep hearing of Ticos and ex-pats who pay less than 15,000 per month, and I readily admit that we do use things they obviously do not.  I know that we have an automatic washer and an electric dryer, we have ceiling fans throughout the house, and even on the front porch (hardly ever use those, though).  We have fluorescent (long tube type) light fixtures in the kitchen, both bathrooms, one closet, and the guest bedroom.  We have a large, American refrigerator.  And, then there is this list: toaster, waffle iron (got its first use since we moved here just today, though), coffee maker, blender, and an electric skillet (that gets used a lot), plus a microwave oven that gets a lot of use.  My computer is on most of the day, into the night, with an all-in-one printer/fax/copier, large monitor, and a router, all working constantly.  Large screen plasma TV, and when we are not watching TV, we usually are watching a movie, either streamed (very poorly) or from a DVD, or the PC’s external HDD.  The stereo system, connected to a CD changer, goes much of the day.  Let’s see………what else?  We do have a 220 volt window unit air conditioner that has not been used for more than a year simply because of what its use did to one month’s light bill.  One large yard light burns from dusk to dawn, and there are three motion sensor lights on all night.
Compare us to the Ticos, and you’ll see that they may have a single light bulb hanging from a wire in the ceiling, only a suicide shower head for hot water, maybe a Tico style washer, but no dryer, small (very small) refrigerator that has to be manually defrosted, a Tico style coffee maker that makes only one cup at a time, maybe one outside light that only gets turned on with noise or visitors, no PC, no TV (or only local channels, used for short periods of time), and, that’s pretty much it.  No wonder their light bill is so small.
Meanwhile, day by day, our dream of life in paradise is turning into something else, and I can’t say I like what it is turning into.  Wish us luck.
Here is what ICE currently charges for electrical consumption, per their website:
                                Primeros 200 KWh a                        ¢ 67/kWh
                                De 201 a 300 KWh a                         ¢124/kWh
                                Cada kilovatio adicional                 ¢139/kWh
 And, in American Money, that is:
$0.13 per kWh
$0.25 per kWh
$0.28 per kWh