Folks soaked by water bills may get relief (April 3, 1996)


The city has a monopoly (on water service). You can’t go anywhere else, You’re stuck, and that’s what angers people.

Colette Thomas

Richard G. Crabe couldn’t believe it when he reached into his mailbox and found a $2,864.98 water bill.

I could import water cheaper from Switzerland, said Crabe, 54, a Flint resident who lives alone.

Grabe said his bills have skyrocketed since fall. February’s bill was $1,500. He said there’s no way he could have flushed the toilet, washed clothes or taken enough showers to boost his bill an additional $1,300 for March.

He insists his house does not have a leak, but it has not been inspected recently. A leak would have to flood his house to run up a $2,800 bill, he said.

I had to laugh because it can’t be for real, Crabe said. There has to be something really wrong, but I don’t want to be the one to pay for the major mistake.

A new Flint water complaint board will start listening to wacky cases, like Crabe’s high water bill, possibly by July. The board will consist of three residents and four staff members, said City Administrator David H. Ready.

The City Council is expected to approve the appointments by the end of this month, along with $5,000 in next year’s fiscal budget for claims.

But before residents can appeal to the board, they must meet several requirements, including at least two consecutive, unexplainable high water bills; an inspection for leaks by a city employee and a licensed plumber; and going through an administrative appeal process.

Colette Timlick said she filed a complaint with the ombudsman’s office after her water bill went from $74 in June 1995 to more than $700 in October. City records show she was billed for using 16 units of water in July, 80 units in August and 156 units in September.

The city has a monopoly, said Timlick, who thinks the water board is a good idea. You can’t go anywhere else. You’re stuck, and that’s what angers people.

Timlick said a plumber has checked her property and didn’t find leaks. She now owes $890.50, city records indicate.

I’m not an anxious person, she said. I just prayed about it and left it in God’s hands.

Crabe, who has lived in his home since 1953, said he began having problems after a new meter was placed outside his house a few years ago. He said he has had a few high water bills, but none near $2,800.

Crabe said a city housing specialist offered to meet with him in February after he complained about his bill.

In the meantime, he said a city employee re-read his meter Feb. 27. Afterward, he received a notice stating he had to pay $147.32 by March 14 or his water would be shut off.

Residents now must call the water department to have their meters read if they detect a problem. If they don’t like the result, they can request an administrative review and hearing with the city’s chief accountant.

Timlick said she was promised a hearing but never got one. Grabe said he was unaware that he needed to request a hearing.

Mishaps can happen when readings are estimated or if employees misread the meter.

But Finance Director Marc Puckett said there is a misconception that the water meters malfunction.

With forced flow meters, it is impossible for the meter to advance at a rate of speed faster than the water flowing through it, he said.

Incorrect water bills could result from remote readers, which are installed on the outside of houses. They may become corroded or bumped, affecting the meter’s reading.

Puckett said it’s the residents’ responsibility to check the remote.

But council President Scott Kincaid said the remotes are ineffective, and residents shouldn’t have to pick up the tab if the devices don’t provide an accurate reading.

Kincaid said the whole appeal process needs to be revamped, and he’s glad a new complaint board will be looking at unusual cases.

There’s nothing in place that’s working, Kincaid said. I’m experiencing more complaints now than in the past 1O years I’ve been on council.

Copyright Flint Journal / MLive Media Group ( Used with permission.

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