Soaked by a big water bill? What you now need to know if you're caught in the tidal wave
There's new relief if you get one of these super soakers from Tucson Water, but you have to qualify and know to ask.Photo: Video by kgun9.com
CREATED Aug. 23, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
AVRA VALLEY, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - During her 26 years living in Avra Valley, she’s never seen anything like it: a water bill so big Doris Williams would've had to fill her hot tub half way 250 times to use the amount of water it states she did. Williams says there's no way that much water passed through her pipes and she didn't want to pay up.
9 On Your Side has heard stories like Williams’ before from Tucson Water customers drenched by surprise big bills. Six months ago, KGUN9 took those concerns directly to Tucson Water, which said it would pursue changes, hoping to provide extra help to qualifying customers who see a sudden, sometimes unexplained spike in usage. So, where’s help for Williams? KGUN9 went back to the agency, and found something every customer should know in case the next bill is a super soaker.
KGUN9 reporter Kevin Keen asked Williams: “You must have gotten your bill in the mail and you opened it up. What went through your mind?” “Somebody's going crazy,” she answered.
Crazy because Williams' May water bill was five times the total from the month before.
Her bill showed her water usage was constant for months then suddenly spiked. The bill from the month before states Williams used 2,990 gallons of water. The May bill showed a tidal wave usage of 21,690 gallons, drenching her with a $130 fee. The Avra Valley woman said that's a lot of money for her and she doesn't have much to spare.
She pointed out she would've had to fill her three-person, 170-gallon whirlpool spa half way up 250 times to use that much water.
The retired teacher, at first, refused to pay the bill out of principle. Later, a utility assistance organization helped her cover it. She said no one, including Tucson Water, ever found the reason for a spike.
9 On Your Side wanted to know: Is Williams able to get a break on her bill? 9 On Your Side reported on a Tucson Water proposal in the spring that would lessen the blow of these surprise big bills. Customers would still pay for every drop, but at a lower rate.
KGUN9 went back to the department. It turns out Williams was just half a month shy from possibly qualifying for that relief. City council adopted the proposal, but not in time to help Williams.
“It’s only for those high bills that occurred after July 2nd--are the ones that qualify for the adjustment,” Tucson Water spokesman Fernando Molina said.
There's a lesson in all of this for other customers who get big bills from now on.
Keen asked Molina, “Is there a way that customers will know that this option of an additional courtesy adjustment exists?” “I believe we have information on our Web site and our customer service clerks are trained to present that information to customers calling up with these concerns.” Keen asked him: “It takes a customer to know that they need to call to ask about something like that?” Molina answered: “Yes.”
A customer also has to meet certain requirements. Among them: you have to use a minimum amount of water and your usage has to return to normal. Read the full “Customer service relief and courtesy adjustments” policy online in section 27-52 on page 89. With approval, you can then pay a lower rate.
Again: you have to ask for it.
Keen asked Williams: “Do you think that's the right way of doing it?” “You can't ask for something that's not offered,” she answered.
Who has this new policy helped? No one yet, according to the agency. In order to qualify, your water usage has to go back to normal after your high billing period. Since this went into effect in July, it'll take a couple weeks before anyone can satisfy that requirement.
A Tucson Water report stated making these adjustments will cost the department nearly $2 million a year because of lost revenue. The agency plans on absorbing that cost into its budget and reducing expenses elsewhere.