I-TEAM INVESTIGATES: A woman's surveillance camera may have been her saving grace in a dispute over her water bill.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Rising temperatures can often mean using more water, but how much more?

An Augusta woman asked that question after she couldn't believe her family used 25,000 gallons than the month before. She also couldn't believe what she saw in the surveillance footage of the meter reader.

There are two types of water meters in Augusta -- digital and analog. With analog readers, you have to physically get down to read the numbers. Which is why Monica Tolbert was expecting to see someone in her yard when she went back through her video, but never did.

"She said I must have a leak if I didn't use the water. If I leaked 30,000 gallons shouldn't I see water? She said, ‘Maybe not. Maybe you wouldn't see it,’" Tolbert said.

The city worker told her someone had just read her meter on the 24th.

"I was like, ‘Oh, okay. Let me go back and look at it on the camera,’” Tolbert said.

So she started scrolling back.

"The camera started when he first stopped his truck and then you will see him sit there for a while and pull off,” Tolbert said.

We checked her meter ourselves -- it's analog, not digital. It has to be physically read by a person not a machine.

Did that meter person actually check the meter?

"I believe there was no way he could put the reading in without getting out and having look at the meter, even though he inputted a wrong reading he still read that meter,” Tom Wiedmeier, the utilities director, said.

Wiedmeier believes the doorbell camera wasn't triggered until after the meter reader got back into his truck.

"He punches into a handheld device, and I think he punched the wrong number,” Wiedmeier said.

Tolbert scrolled back another month. This time the camera catches the city truck pulling to her neighbor's house. He parks for a few seconds and then pulls away, never getting out of the truck.

But her neighbor's meter is different --- it's digital.

"Sometimes they don't even have to stop,” Wiedmeier said. “They can drive-by and pick up the readings."

About 60 percent of the meters in Richmond County are now digital.

"It was just shocking to me that someone didn't say, ‘Oh, this is odd,’” Tolbert said. “Let me investigate that for her."

"Unfortunately, she got that response from us because that is a high read,” Weidmeier said. “In fact, our system had flagged it as a high read and had generated a work order."

The city did come back out and got the correct reading.

"I appreciate them fixing it quickly and double checking, but I do wish they had better customer service,” Tolbert said.

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