I-TEAM: A policy in Richmond County could save you hundreds on a "one time significant unexplained" water bill.

Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

(Source: WRDW)

RICHMOND COUNTY, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – Have you ever gotten a water bill that is way more expensive than normal?

At some point, it’s happened to all of us, but when it happened to an Augusta woman for a second time, her mom reached out for help.

After all, water isn’t exactly optional, and if you live in Augusta, the Utilities Department is pretty much your only option.

So when Corrine LeFrancois moved here from Boston, she tried to go with the flow.

"Right, it's not like trash where you can take it to a dump,” LeFrancois said. “You have to go through the municipal water."

Then she got her first bill.

“One hundred dollars for two people sounded really expensive to me,” LeFrancois said.

So she called her landlord, her landlord called a plumber, and BINGO. “Yes, I have the receipt here, and it says, ‘Water line broken at meter. Made repair,’ so,” LeFrancois said.

So her bill should go down, right? Wrong. The opposite happened.

The next month, it jumped to $178, then to $149, then to $165.

"And every month we would call the water company and ask if they could send somebody out and take a look because it just didn't seem right,” LeFrancois said.

They eventually did two months after a receipt shows a plumber located and then fixed the issue. Augusta Utilities noted “no leaks or dial movement on meter."

"But then mysteriously the next month I have a $250 credit on my bill, so," LeFrancois said.

She took that as -- hey, you're right. Your bills have been too high, so here's some money back.

"So then I ended up not paying a water bill for a couple of months because that credit then covered the much more reasonable sounding $40 or $50 bills that we were getting,” LeFrancois said.

And the bills stayed that way for more than a year, so, water under the bridge. That is until a bill came right around Thanksgiving. It was $329.15.

“So now, my mom is no longer living with me, so this $329 bill was for one person,” LeFrancois said.

One person who was also out of town for a full week of that billing period. LeFrancois called Augusta Utilities while her mom reached out to the I-Team.

Two years ago, our I-Team investigated water bills in Columbia County. LeFrancois’ mom remembered and asked us to take a look. The same day we started asking questions, we received this email:

We have reread the meter and have pulled a report showing consumption hourly for the last 40 days and it shows no significant usage. Unfortunately, the usage occurred prior to the 40-day window during which we can see when it happened. As a matter of fact, she has used less than 1,000 gallons in the last 25 days, so there are no ongoing issues that we see. As is our usual policy, in a one-time significant unexplained consumption like this, we are willing to adjust her bill to reflect a typical bill. The meter is right, is fairly new and the water did somehow flow through the meter, but we can’t explained if a hose may have been left on or a toilet ran for a month or something like that. Please let her know I have adjusted her bill to be the same as last month, $53.85.

“Miraculously, after getting nowhere with the water company ourselves, within a day of contacting Meredith, the water company dropped my bill back down to $53, which was the same as the previous month, and I just got my recent bill and it was only $40, so there's -- it just sounds to me like there's something hinky going on at the water company,” LeFrancois said.

Whatever's going on, this is a good reminder to always check your bill, especially if you have auto pay. Your usage will ebb and flow from time to time, but Augusta Utilities will adjust your bill if for a "one-time significant unexplained consumption." That's what happened in this case, saving LeFrancois from flushing about $300 down the drain.

Augusta Utilities wonders if maybe a toilet was running for a month, so we looked up how much that would actually cost. Most estimates say about $70 extra. She has three toilets, but only two were working. So if that were the case, we're only talking $140. That's not even half of that $330 bill.

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