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Durham employee's mistake means higher water bills for some

Posted April 21, 2010

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— As many as 11,000 city water customers in Durham could end up paying more in their upcoming bills because of one employee.

Deputy City Manager Theodore Voorhees said Wednesday that a former meter reader spent about four months from September to February estimating some meters instead of taking the actual readings.

Mistake has some Durham customers with big bills Mistake has some Durham customers with big bills

City officials began having suspicions in February, Voorhies said, but only recently did they realize how widespread the problem was.

"Because this person chose to not do their job – in an inconsistent way – it was hard to detect a pattern initially," he said.

Voorhies would not identify the employee, citing personnel privacy laws, but said the employee was terminated.

The city sent a letter to affected water customers Wednesday, advising them that their bills have been adjusted.

Customers, like Shemeecka Gaines, say they are outraged that they now have to pay up to triple the amount they normally pay.

Gaines' previous water bill from the city was about $49. Now, it's more than $206.

"It's just an outrage to me," she said. "I'm very upset."

Voorhies said customers can set up payment plans if they need to, but that they are expected to pay the higher bills because they did use the water.

In some cases, he added, the meter reader also overestimated some readings and that some customers are seeing a decrease in their bills.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 22, 2010

    Go_Daddy & 1trhl, why should people who used water not have to pay for it?

    New meter readers need only look at the actual meter to see how much water a house used...and then adjust the next water bill up or down accordingly.

    Yeah, this employee did a bad thing, but the City fired him. Whatdya want now? Reparations?

  • christalbowman Apr 22, 2010

    Folks (WRAL included) are missing one very important aspect of this story: the tiered water rate system. http://www.ci.durham.nc.us/departments/wm/water_sewer_rates.cfm
    Yes, these people DID use the water they are being charged for, but in many cases they didn't actually use it all in one billing period, even though that's where the usage ended up. The more water use, the higher the rate. Within a two month period, the rate is $1.72 for the first 400 "units", then $2.59 for the next 600, and then $2.84 for the remaining amount. So customers ARE being charge MORE in cases where an inordinate amount of their water use was lumped into one billing period. My household hardly ever goes over the 400 mark, but my last bill was for much more than that, and some of it was charged at a higher rate. If the usage had been allotted appropriately I would have been paying the lower rate for all of it. I think the city needs to do some recalculation to be fair.

  • Go_Daddy_Go Apr 22, 2010

    Just like Durham. We screwed up, and now you're going to pay...

  • 1trhl Apr 22, 2010

    Although the consumers are being charged for water that they actually consumed, I don't think it's fair for them to be charged for a mistake made by the water comission employee. A lot of people out there live on a tight budget. I hope they do work out an interest/fee free payment plan.

    If a private company had made this type of mistake, the matter may have been handled differently. And, I'm sure it would be viewed differently by a court of law. I guess Durham can't afford to pay for the mistake out of their pocket.

  • baracus Apr 22, 2010

    I don't see how this is a "mistake".

  • janeedmonds Apr 22, 2010

    This same thing happened a few years ago in Wake Forest. One would think the Triangle water companies would have learned from a previous mistake in the area.

  • fkhaywood Apr 21, 2010

    A water meter records the water used continuously and is not reset each month. Learn how things work!

  • Proud2BUS Citizen Apr 21, 2010

    My water bill was double this month and when I called to find out why all I got was a run around and no true reason. Even though my bills have been going down each month because of water saving appliances and carefully watching my water usage. When my neighbor they were told that their bill went up due to a new meter that was installed. Can't Durham ever be honest?

  • cge061367 Apr 21, 2010

    Can you really do that... How do they know how much water the customer really used. In my world if you screw up then you loose your job.. Coslty error for lazieness!

  • ncmickey Apr 21, 2010

    I dont think it was a 'mistake'