Middletown newsstand owner

A Middletown business owner says he was hit with a big utility bill, years after his newsstand closed down. (WFSB)

MIDDLETOWN, CT (WFSB) -- A Middletown business owner says he was hit with a big utility bill, years after his newsstand closed down.

Until the I-Team started investigating, he thought he'd have to pay thousands that he says he didn't owe.

It was a Middletown institution for decades -- Central News was a Main Street gathering place as much as it was a business.

“We were a newsstand and smoke shop, cigarettes, cigars, magazines, newspapers,” said Bill Sbona, who owned Central News.

Like many small business owners, he saw his revenues shrinking.

“Technology got us, you could get newspapers online, you could get cigars online, you could do everything online,” he said.

Facing that reality, he decided to close the doors.

“I notified my landlord, he threw a sign in the window and within a couple days he had someone who wanted to rent. We didn't have many utilities, gas, electric and phone. We paid our last bills and off we went,” Sbona said.

Three years later, a notice showed up at Sbona's home address.

He thought his debt from the newsstand was paid, but Eversource thought differently.

They turned over his account to a collection agency which said he owed more than $4,000.

“I talked to Eversource and they said, oh this is odd that it went 3 years, but we want our money,” Sbona said.

He says Eversource told him they kept sending bills to his Main Street address every month.

The problem was a couple months after he moved out, and a new business opened up there.

But no one from the Pickle Stand Deli ever let Sbona know that he had been getting bills every month.

The deli has changed hands at least once since Sbona left, but the I-Team never reached the former owners.

However, the I-Team did reach out to Eversource.

“Unfortunately, we don't have any records of Mr. Sbona requesting to cancel his gas service with us,” said Tricia Modifica, a spokesperson for Eversource.

Eversource said they never shut off gas service for non-payment because, unlike neighboring buildings, the gas meter at the former newsstand is in the building and not easily accessed.

That's what has Sbona angry.

He agrees he may owe something, but the Pickle Stand opened a few months after he closed, so he knows he doesn't owe three years’ worth.

“I think we calculated $500- $700. I'll pay you until the end of the year,” Sbona said.

Eversource did have records of repeated requests from Sbona and his representatives to reduce the bill and after the I-Team called they agreed to take one more look.

“This is a very unique situation and really a hard one for Mr. Sbona, so we were able to work with him and come up with a solution and we were happy that we were able to come up with a settlement,” Modifica said.

A representative for Sbona said they agreed to pay Eversource $500 to resolve it once and for all.

Eversource confirms they received that payment.

Sbona is still unhappy that it took years and the I-Team getting involved to get to this resolution, but he's happy Eversource ultimately agreed to cut a deal in this unusual situation.

Copyright 2018 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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