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Aurora family vows to fight 'shocking' $3,500 water bill

Town reduces bill from $6,500, but 'we're not going to accept it'
May 13, 2020
Lisa Queen

After months of battling with the town over her family’s hefty water bill, Rosemary Arnold said the fight’s not over yet.

“We’re not going to accept it,” said Arnold, who lives with her husband, Earl, and their son, Eric, in a home on Morning Crescent that they’ve resided in since 1987.

“I’m nervous because we have less money that ever right now. All three of us are out of work right now.”

At the heart of the dispute is the fact the Arnolds say they unknowingly had a broken water meter. They are enraged the town has insisted they must have ignored notices.

Even though the town has agreed to charge the family $3,524 rather than the $6,518 it had first proposed, Arnold said officials haven’t justified the bill and want to impose an “unfair” payment method.

While she agrees her family owes something -- she believes about $1,500 -- she feels the town’s bill is “shocking.”

While the town did not answer specific questions about the Arnolds’ bill, it said in an emailed statement that in the case of a broken water meter, it will always work with residents “to ensure the water bill charge is fair and equitable.”

On Dec. 20, the Arnolds got a letter from the town saying there was a problem with their meter, along with a $500 estimated water bill.

Arnold tried to contact someone at the town but was unable to given the holidays.

When she reached someone in January, she said she was told the family had not been charged properly for quite some time.

The town agreed to come and check on the meter on Feb. 27, the day after Earl had surgery because he wanted to be home for the visit.

“A very nice man” replaced the broken meter in the crawl space and then the town hit the Arnolds with a bill for $6,518, with $500 applied immediately to their water bill.

They were given a year to pay the rest.

It turns out the family’s meter hadn’t been working since Dec. 8, 2016.

A few months before that, when there were seven people living in the house, the family had two big water bills, each over $300.

They checked for leaks, installed efficient toilets, refrained from watering their lawn and garden and did bigger laundry loads rather than several smaller loads.

“We took some extreme measures (to reduce the bills),” Arnold said.

A couple of months later, four members of the family moved out.

New water bills were drastically reduced, which the Arnolds attributed that to their conservation efforts and smaller household.

“Little did I know, we weren’t being charged for consumption. We were only paying the infrastructure wastewater. So, there was a bill but our meter wasn’t spinning. But we wouldn’t know that because it’s down in our crawl space,” Arnold said.

“On we went thinking ‘Good, we’ve achieved the results we wanted and then some’.”

The letter in December saying they owed more than $6,500 led to many sleepless nights wondering where the money would come from.

Arnold has been laid off from her minimum wage retail job. Earl is a millwright at Magna, a physically demanding job he’s supposed to retire from in September. He recently had knee surgery.

Eric is a mechanic but has also been laid off.

Arnold said she has spent months unsuccessfully trying to get the town to explain how it calculated the bill as well as provide proof her family was notified of the broken meter.

“I don’t feel like they stand behind anything with the calculation. We still didn’t get a calculation. Not one that was layman’s terms or anything,” she said.

In its statement, the town said it issues water bills to residents every three months.

“The town continuously reviews the operation of the local water meters. If a meter is not generating accurate consumption reads, the town will include a notice for the resident attached to an estimated water bill and will ask the resident to make an appointment to check the meter. The operations department will also investigate the exterior connection for issues,” it said.

“Until the meter can be fixed, the standard practice is for the town to estimate consumption based on that specific residents’ consumption history. Once the meter has been replaced or repaired, the billed estimates are reviewed for accuracy and future bills are adjusted accordingly for any issues with the estimated consumption.”

Initially, Arnold was relieved the town agreed to chop $3,000 off the bill.

But that was replaced by “anger” when she realized officials either want to backdate the bill based on an outdated time when seven people were living in the house or on current consumption with she, her husband and their son being in the house 24/7 rather than at work.

“They’re only going to come out ahead with their two options and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said.