COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — “I have all of my bills. All of my bills. You can look at them. Paid in full, paid in full, paid ahead,” said Mike Moore, a Columbus resident.
Moore said that’s been the trend for the nearly 20 years he’s lived in his Olde Towne East home. So, he was confused when he got a letter from the Department of Public Utilities in March.
“Got the mail, and opened this up and it says, ‘Final Notice.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Final notice for what?'”
The first line of the letter states that the water metering system at Moore’s home was “registering a reading that indicates there is a problem with the metering system,” and said “it is imperative” that he schedule an appointment to avoid disruption of service. Moore then called customer service.
“The lady that I talked with basically said that I owed two and a half years’ worth of water,” said Moore, adding that he could owe up to $1,000, because the department did not get accurate meter readings during that time.
“I paid what they told me to pay,” said Moore. “How can you bill me for these amounts if you’re saying that you haven’t got a reading off my meter for two and a half years?”
To resolve the issue, Moore said the department offered two options: go on a payment plan or appeal it in utilities court. Instead, Moore opted to call Better Call 4.
“By calling you guys, hopefully, somebody will pay a little bit more attention,” Moore said. “Hopefully, will tell me how I’m supposed to pay for two and a half years’ worth of water.”
NBC4’s Jennifer Bullock reached out to the Department of Public Utilities. In short, a representative told her the issue “should have been obvious” to Moore, because each billing statement from July of 2021 through January of this year shows “zero consumption.”
However, that same representative said the reality is, “this water did get used.” In a statement, the department said:
“We are sorry for the inconvenience and frustration Mr. Moore has experienced with the Department of Public Utilities. The department stopped entering customer’s homes to perform meter change outs for non-consumption issues largely due to the COVID pandemic and for public safety concerns; however, we recently started addressing these issues again in 2022. We are reviewing our internal processes for addressing customer service concerns and the best way to handle situations where the customer may not be aware of a malfunctioning meter issue. Through our Enhanced Meter Program, which began installations earlier this year, all of our customer meters will be replaced, after which customers will gain user-friendly access to water usage data. This is a step toward giving the customer more control over understanding their daily consumption. However, the department does not waive consumption charges for the use of water. In Mr. Moore’s case, a new meter was recently installed on the property and a new reading will be taken on April 22, 2023. As with any customer facing a similar issue, we will calculate a back-bill to the beginning period of non-consumption based on this new meter reading, and we will work with Mr. Moore to set up a 24-month payment plan. The Department of Public Utilities is always looking for ways to improve our processes and the Enhanced Meter Program will help alleviate these issues in the future.”
The department also told me that the City of Columbus has more than 280,000 water accounts. So, when it comes to discrepancies, “we’re not going to catch every one,” but adds that Moore’s meter upgrade is part of a program to replace existing meters that “will help alleviate these issues in the future.”
In the meantime, it’s important for each customer to look at every bill closely.