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Couple Appeals $700 Water Bills, Calls Usage Claim ‘Physically Impossible’

Carters say they were charged for 104,720 gallons in a two month period; water board rejects credit request.

Rick and Debi Carter say the Ramona Municipal Water District mistakenly billed them twice for more than $700, but the water board said they’re responsible to pay their bills.

The Carters spoke to the board at its meeting Tuesday, asking for forgiveness of their August and October water bills.

District staff proposed a $535.18 credit to the Carters, but recommended that the water board not approve the appeal, as by law, the district cannot gift public funds.

The $535.18 figure was the difference between the August and October 2012 billings for the Carters and the average water usage during the summer of the previous four years.

“We had two bills of $700,” Rick told the board. “There’s no way I’ve used $700 worth of water on my property. It’s unbelievable we have two of these bills.”

The Carters said that after they received their first $700 bill, they cut down drastically on water, causing surprise and confusion for the subsequent $700 water bill.

“It’s physically impossible,” Debi said. “When was the last time our meter was calibrated?”

Richard Hannasch, district financial services director, said a meter master was set and that once water runs through the meter, the customer is responsible for the water, whether it’s used or due to a leakage.

John Brean, water operations superintendent for the district, said that meter on the Carters’ property is just 5 years old and cannot be calibrated. Meter masters help confirm that the meter is accurate.

“It did show areas of high usage,” Brean said of the Carters’ meter master.

General Manager David Barnum noted that the price of water per unit is about $5. According to the district’s website, one unit of water equates to 748 gallons.

By that standard, the Carters used about 140 units of water during each $700 billing period, or about 104,720 gallons of water.

Board member Darrell Beck told Rick and Debi that these things happen and the customer is responsible for paying the bill.

“We have a lot of these cases,” Beck told the homeowners. “I’m sorry... if the meter reads what it reads, the water belongs to the customer.”

Debbie said their previous highest water bill in the past year was just $289, and if it isn’t a meter mistake, perhaps it’s a clerical mistake.

Another incident was brought up during the meeting regarding a similar case in the Country Estates. The property owners also had high water use from July-September of this year and had a reported bill of $846.31. They were asking for payment forgiveness and $518.96 credit.

No one from the property showed up at the board meeting to speak on the item.

The board unanimously voted against crediting both property owners.

Have you received a high water bill recently? The water board encouraged residents to check for leaks in both their yards and their neighbor’s yards. You can learn how to read your meter on the water district’s website.

Editor's note: By law, he Ramona Municipal Water District staff and board cannot provide fee forgiveness for customers, as it's considered a gift of public funds.

Kim December 13, 2012 at 11:29 PM
I agree debra. I think someone went crazy wrong and they are covering it up. We have checked our meter daily and it is NOT running all the time but for some reason our water bills show something dramatically different. I live with a professional and he can't find a problem. We checked our bills and usage for the past 4 years we have owned this house and there is NO way we used that amount of water. It is completely impossible. We would be in a sink hole or there would be constant run off going down the street. We work 50 plus hours a week which leaves the house completely empty all day. The only water usage we have is showers, dishes and what we cook with and drink (which is mostly purchased as bottled water from the store). So explain to me how we could possibly have a $700 bill under these circumstances. It is not a coincidence that most of the population of the estates has had the same problem for the past 2 bililng cycles. Seems a bit strange to me.
Jewels December 14, 2012 at 12:23 AM
I agree wtih Debra too. Something is off. My last bill I just got was for October and November, and we cut the watering, so it should be going down not up. Maybe a lazy meter reader not checking meters before, and he is playing catch up? Maybe he hasn't checked them the last two months and guessed? My bill isn't nearly what yours were, but mine doubled. And for the guy who says its from the summer, no because my bill didn't double every other summer. We have mostly natives and even killed off our grass in the back yard so we could water less. We only have one small grass patch in the front. When I get home tonight, I am going to check to make sure my meter isn't spinning but it is just too much of a coincidence that it is happening to all of us. My water bill is normally $50 a month, my electric is $50 a month, and my propane is $40-50 a month. I am frugal (or cheap as my husband says), so we know how to concerve. I haven't spoken to my neighbors about their water, but I am going to tonight. I know what their bills normally run (2-4 times what mine do) because we have discussed them!
Glenn December 14, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Thi sounds awefully familiar. Many years ago when I lived in Los Angeles, the WD (water district). moaned and groaned about drought and threatened rate hikes. So I performed an experiment. I used two 5 gal. buckets to catch the cold water that comes before the shower warms up to fill the toilet tank for the morning flushes. I pluged the tub and bailed grey water for the grass and plants. I did this for the enire household of 5 for 2 months. When the next bill came the payment went up by 15%. We called the WD and the explaination for the increase rather than decrease in the bill was due to the fact we conserved TOO MUCH!! They explained that if everyone conserved that much, they would shortly be operating in the red. Wow what a dupe or in other words a double edged blade.They are about profits which pay for pensions, benefits, outrageous salaries, and raises much like city workers and the like ( not conservation). My advice is to drill a well if you can and install solar to power to operate the motor. However keep in mind WD will charge 20 plus dollars a month to maintain the unused meter. Fair trade for the satisfacton of being the master of your own destiny.
debra carter December 17, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Meter master also confirmed that the meter meraculously returned to its normal reading of around $180-200.
Whisky Foxtrot December 28, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Folks, I can tell you Greg is not making these comments to drum up business. HE CARES! He even has a website with lots of FREE how-to plumbing videos and tips. (DIYplumbingAdvice.com), which are also on YouTube. Check it out. Here's one on how to check for leaks. http://youtu.be/0BcwA8T4WPo Last year I had a leak in the water main to my house. The RMWD meter reader called me when he read the meter and it was unusually high, and shut it off for me right then (thanks!). The bill was $1300!! ($1000 more than usual), so I can tell you it IS possible; and it wasn't that big of a leak either (small crack). But with the pressure from the main line at over 150 psi, it can lose a lot of water in a month or two! RMWD did not forgive a single dime of it (yeah, I got the "we can't donate water to you" line as well), but they did let me pay it off over 6 months. So, test for leaks and take the payment option if it helps out.

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