Fed up about his water bill, Leroy Davis sent a letter to abc27’s Dave Marcheskie pleading for help. The retired couple is faced with owing $700 in past water meter readings.
“This is ridiculous!” shouted Davis. “They expect it to be paid. They said the amount is overdue and must be paid now. Where do you come up with that kind of money?!”
To his surprise, Davis said he received a bill in April stating he owed $707.
“We’re incurring penalties,” he said.
Davis showed abc27 his water and sewer bills a few months back. Each month, the 65-year-old and wife Sharon paid around $68 a month. Davis fell into the hole thousands of Harrisburg residents have found themselves in the past months.
Last November, abc27 first reported that failing batteries caused a wave on inaccurate water meter readings. The batteries, which were installed on the 24,000 city homes in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, have a life of 10-12 years.
During the recovery process, the city agreed to transfer the water and sewer systems to The Harrisburg Authority. At that time, THA said they realized the city never had a plan to replace the batteries.
THA was recently renamed to Capital Region Water. According to a spokesperson, the transaction agreement stated CRW would take over all city accounts, including any customers under the existing estimated water meter.
Timing was not kind, as more than 6,000 homes have been affected by the failing batteries or weak signals to offer CRW accurate readings. In the beginning of 2014, CRW stated they would raise water and sewer rates for the first time in 2007.
For Davis, the new rates bumped the retired couple’s monthly bill to $154.
“We’re on a fixed income,” Davis said.
CRW CEO Shannon Williams said the company has cut the number in half, less than 3,000 estimated water meter customers remain. The company told abc27 News in February a blanket mailing to all customers was too costly. CRW has been using their website and social media outlets in attempts to get information out about the problem.
Williams said CRW has been bombarded with so many calls they hired a customer service manager to handle the volume.
“As we go from estimated to actual, there are going to be more customers to get that change in there,” Williams said.
According to a Public Utilities Commission spokesperson, the PUC does not have any jurisdiction over a municipal authority such as Capital Region Water. However, CRW must follow state code, which states any utility company cannot go after owed amounts more than four years. CRW has not.
The PUC explained the state code also requires utility companies to give customers at least as many months to repay the costs as owed. For example, CRW would have to give a customer five months to pay back five months worth of accurate water readings.
“Now, we have to play catch-up,” Williams said. “Get us back to where we should be.”
Despite media reports, many customers are still confused on where or who to pay during this transition. Naturally, many continue to call the Harrisburg Water Bureau for answers.
“The woman down there told her, well … there’s nothing wrong with the meter,” Davis said. “Pay the bill and she hung up the phone on her.”
CRW vowed better customer service and urges residents to call their new hotline at 1-888-510-0606. They hosted an open house took at the YWCA Thursday night to allow residents an opportunity to get more information.
“Folks that call in and don’t talk to somebody, will get a return call,” Williams said.
To make sure Davis get answers, abc27 contacted CRW on his behalf. Officials said they will work with Davis to remedy his questions and outstanding payments.
“I’m at a loss for words,” he said.