By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — Several residents addressed the City Council and Mayor Daniel Paletko about concerns over rising water bills and aging equipment during the Sept. 24 council meeting.
Councilman Bill Bazzi said he has received a lot of calls from residents, including senior citizens who didn’t know why their water rates were increasing.
“They’ve been almost double for some so I would like to find out or ask why is that some residents have the same usage of water or sometimes less but yet they’re their water rates are doubling,” he said. “The residents are waiting to find out what the status is on why their water rates are increasing.”
On a personal level, Councilman Ray Muscat said his mother-in-law would get bills for the minimum $48 while she wasn’t living in the house and living with him since she needs full-time care. When Muscat and his mother-in-law asked for the final bill, it was $196 he said.
“Years ago, I said it then and I’m gonna say it again, I asked to see the calibration reports on a handheld instrument that gets plugged into the meter, no one’s ever produced one,” Muscat said. “I don’t know if we even had it calibrated. I know recently we just purchased a new one. I do understand and believe that the water meters are old, we know that, but how do you go from $48, $48, $48, $48 to $196 and nobody’s living there?
“How does that happen, and I know there’s no leaks so I’m trying to figure out — and you get the bills and everybody says it’s actual, actual, actual but something is wrong. The system is broken here, are they saying actual and not really reading the meter?”
Department of Public Works Director John Selmi said if the council has an address that has a water bill issue, but doesn’t communicate it to be investigated then an answer cannot be provided.
He also addressed the calibration of equipment question stating the equipment used by this city is upwards of 30 years old and unsupported.
“The calibration on how we read this stuff though, there’s a wire on the meter that goes to the outside box that is attached to pins, and the gun plugs into that and those pins give it numbers,” Selmi said. “So, if you have a dispute with your bill we will gladly come out, plug in our device, show you the read, go downstairs and match it” against the meter.
Muscat said he agreed with Selmi, but that too many people are saying the same thing about their bills.
“In my opinion to de-invest in the water infrastructure, you know cut the rates and do things of those lines this is going to only create a bigger problem down the road if you’re not going to invest in your infrastructure,” Selmi said. “There’s many more technologies out there how we read where a person can have an app on their phone to see they read every five minutes.”
Councilman Tom Wencel said his water bill for one cycle was $770 so he talked to water department employees who told him that is the amount he used, but he didn’t see how it could be that much.
“I checked for leaks,” he said. “They told me how to check for leaks, and I did. There weren’t, and the meter wasn’t moving when all the water was off, so I’m going to call and have someone come by. I did pay the $770 bill.”
The concern for Councilman Dave Abdallah was volume of calls he received saying that he had about eight people in 10 days call him about their water bills.
“I got a copy of the bills and sent them to the water department, and they have the answers on a bunch of them, but then two more came in,” he said. “I’ve never had that many water bills come in where people ask why the water bills are so high, including when they came in on a rental property that I have the resident pay. But again it was also quite a bit more than what’s normal water usage.”
“I think we need to come in with a proposal to — we need a new system,” Paletko said to Selmi. “There’s no question about it. I think this is systemic of what we need to do.”
Three residents addressed the council and mayor about their water bill issues at the meeting.
The first resident said she spoke at a council in August, met with Paletko, and a city employee went to her house and determined there was no water leak and that the equipment was obsolete.
“I was advised not to have equipment checked because there would be a fee to have it checked,” she said. “I was told that everyone that does that — turns out nothing is wrong.”
“Obviously there’s something wrong with it when my bill is $48, $48, $51, $29, $28.14, $48, $48, $45, $46 those are my bills,” she added. “It doesn’t make sense to me when I end up with a bill of $222.65 last reading. I’m not satisfied with their answers, I did leave a message at the mayor’s office on Thursday and again Monday.”
When Paletko asked her what she would like the city to do in order to make everything right, the resident said, “I can’t say waive the bill because then everybody would want their bill waived, but at least waive the fee to have this checked.”
Paletko agreed to waive the fee.
Another resident said his bills have been $48, then he receives a spike here and there, goes back to $48, jumps up to $70 and then $510.37 which he called “absolutely ridiculous.”
“It’s just my wife and I in the house,” he said.
He said he spoke to some of his neighbors who also had bills of $525, $297 and in the $280 range, saying something is “terribly wrong” with system and something needs to be changed.
A final resident claimed he’s received several bills that were merely photocopies over water billing periods.
“I believe some people are not doing their jobs,” he said. “They may not be reading, they just photocopy the bills and send them to the residents. Then after six months or eight months they might go and check the actual reading which accumulates over the time to become that much.”
The resident’s bill was $510 compared to the previous $142 and $142 he received.
“I’m not complaining about it but I hope the mayor and the water department upgrade their equipment and will do their job on a monthly basis,” he said. “If we are short in the reading department, we should hire an extra hand to do the actual reading so the people who are living on Social Security do not get stuck with bills they can’t afford.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])