PRINCEVILLE, N.C. — Washing the dishes should be a simple chore, but for Carla McDowell, it's become a bit of a nightmare.
“No, there’s nothing,” she said, turning on the tap in her Princeville home. “This is really tearing me up.”
McDowell was washing her dishes Thursday when the water suddenly stopped flowing. The town had shut off her water, claiming she owed $700.
“There’s no way I can come up with $700 by tomorrow,” McDowell said.
And she's not alone.
Town leaders have shut off water to about 200 customers who are behind on their bills. That’s nearly a quarter of the town’s 845 dwellings, according to census data.
Princeville Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates said the town has tried to work for months with customers who owe back payments, but it’s complicated.
Princeville raised rates and updated meters in recent years, which increased the bills. When residents began questioning their large bills and saying they could not pay, the former town manager told them they only had to pay their current month’s bill – not what they owed in back payments – until the matter was resolved.
Current town leaders said they cannot abide by the former manager’s promise, especially when there’s no official record of it.
“Bring the proof,” Everette-Oates said. “You know, the manager is supposed to put everything in writing.”
Resident Mike Graham had his water shut off after his bill reached more than $1,100.
“How they calculated it, I don’t know,” he said.
He saved water in his bathtub before it was cut off.
“This is what we have to do right now,” he said. “We have to fill it up.”
Everette-Oates said a good-faith payment of half the bill is needed for water service to be restored. For now, customers are left using bottled water until they can figure out what to do.
“I’m going to try to come up with something to pay it because I got to have water,” McDowell said. “I can’t live without water.”