Coincidental or just Profitable
According to the City of Phoenix, I have used an excess of 500,000 gallons of one of our most precious commodities in just 4 months!
You would think that my home would have lakefront views, but there
was no wet ground to indicate a leak! Thatâs a lot of water! Where did it go ? Maybe there is a new underground oasis in NE Phoenix.
Has anybody noticed that the City of Phoenix water services department has undergone some very pertinent changes in the customer service department? I think the most confusing change was the new billing envelopes.I have lived in my house for 22 years. In January, they changed the envelopes to a standard letter size envelope. I have spoke to quite a few people who did exactly what I did, overlook that it was the water bill. In my case, the new envelope looked exactly like the ambulance bill from the City of Phoenix and was therefore filed in the pile marked for Moms medicare statements. I should state that I am legally blind. This has caused more trouble than you can imagine.
My life has been chaotic at best lately as I struggle to maintain my house of 23 years. Out of work for the past 3 years to take care of my 85 year old mom, who lives with me because she has end stage dementia and needs 24 hour care. I firmly believe that family should take care of family if at all possible. I also still have two kids at home. My son has a car but he lets me use it so I can go back and forth from hospital, groceries, doctors appts., etc... Car Insurance for a household with 2 teens is out of control so another car is out of the question right now. He is aware that without a car, I could never keep everything going. I thank God I have such an understanding son.
Back to the water bill, I also noticed that I had a new account number as of January. Even more peculiar, my history of water usage was non existent. It started all over again in January. This was not a good thing for me, since starting in January my water usage was through the roof, clearly indicating a leak. I historically use 14 - 19 units a month. Since I did not ever see the water bill I was not aware of any problem. During the first part of the year I was extremely distracted with my motherâs health. She had broken her hip and was in a skilled nursing center, she was getting worse instead of better, mainly due to hospitalists changing her meds, and her dementia made her a nightmare for the nurses, so I was running back and forth to keep her manageable. She suffered a stroke while in the SNC and landed back in the hospital. The financial situation at home was escalating out of control. My son had recently been laid off and I could not break lose to get any work. March rolled around and I received a door hanger. Oops ! I still couldn't find a bill, so I called to get the amount needed to pay to avoid shut off. It was $300. so I paid it. Nothing was ever said to me at that time about the extremely high units being tallied through my meter !
I realize it is my responsibility to keep an eye on my water use, which is exactly why I wasn't stressing about it, I was confident my bill would not be anything to worry about because I had no running toilets, dripping faucets, or any suspiciously wet ground anywhere on my property. After all, at this point in my life, if it is not in my face screaming at me I don't have time to even think about it.
Well on May 4, it reared its ugly head, and was not just screaming in my face, but jumping up and down on my head! A serviceman was out in the alley, which always gets my attention. I went out to inquire what the problem was, he replied "I had a complaint of a high bill." This seemed strange to me because, although I tried like heck to call for a statement to be sent, I never got through the wait period to talk to anyone. He says, "ya, meter says youâre going through 3.5 gallons a minute! I just about fell over. âTurn it off!" I told him. I was in total shock. It took them 4 months to send someone out to check on this issue. He walked the exterior of my property with me looking for some clue. We saw nothing that would indicate a leak. âWell itâs on your side of the meter, so it's your responsibilityâ I was told. He then politely excused himself, wishing me luck! I immediately started looking for signs of a leak.
A neighbor came over that evening to help solve the mystery. As he was approaching the meter box, out in the alley, his entire lower leg sunk into the ground, right next to the meter box. Mystery solved. I thought it very odd because this was exactly where the serviceman was standing earlier. And even he didn't even notice it. I dug up the pipes and saw the problem immediately. The pipe, coming directly out of the box, on my side, looked to be about 50 years old. Anyway it was cracked. As I was repairing it I began to think, didn't they just put a new meter on? I would think it would be standard operations to check the integrity of the pipes you are hooking up to a brand new meter! All the homes in this neighborhood are at least 40 - 50 years old. Surely I can't be the only person this has happened to. This is really not my area of expertise, but logic would tell me the City should at least let customers know they should make repairs if needed. Since this IS their area of expertise.
I still did not know the whole of it until I was just filling in the hole which coveted the newly repaired pipe, when yet another City of Phoenix truck pulled up. I explained everything that happened and he showed me the units used on my account for the last 4 months. He was aware of my normal units used, as being 14 - 19 units a month. NOTE: If he had my previous units used before 2010, why wouldn't billing? Why is there not a red flag audit built into their computer system? Now, I am going from confused to totally $#%^ed off. And then he told me he was there to leave a door hanger. Just to add insult to injury. He seemed sincerely embarrasssed and told me to contact customer service immediately. Why wouldn't this be caught in billing ?
Surely with the state of the art computer system the City must have, wouldn't this have raised a red flag? I will be charged $54.00 to have a service man bring me a door hanger, telling me that my water is about to be shut off; I don't think I'm alone when I say I would gladly pay twice that to have someone come to my door after the very first month of suspicious usage! After all, they still have to come to my neighborhood once a month to read the meters. So why not let me know there is a problem at the first sign? Why let this precious commodity be totally abused for four months? I'm sure that it's not about the money. The EPA would never let that fly !
I got on the phone to customer service, and remained on hold for about 25 minutes. Finally, an agent answered. I began to tell her my situation and she put me on hold to get a supervisor. At this point, my cell phone is beeping, low battery! OK, par for the course. So many questions were running through my head. I am sure my phone will die before I am able to resolve anything. As soon as the supervisor picked up I asked if I could get a direct line number, because I needed to call back since my phone was about to die. She gave me a Mr. West's number. Apparently, he is the ONLY person you can talk to regarding your hardship situation. Imagine the heavy shoulders this guy must have.
But in reality itâs not so bad since there are no exceptions to your usage if it runs through your meter, it's your responsibility.
But what if there is a surge of water and it breaks your pipe? What if when installing a new meter, they inadvertently wrenched on their pipe and it breaks my pipe? Mr. West couldn't answer my questions. All he does is set up payment arrangements. He informed me that in order to turn it back on I would have to pay the past due of $600.00! What? Really? For me this seemed totally impossible. I have always been a fighter and I wasn't going to just rolled over and give up. As much as I wanted to! I had a family to think about. Without water I would not be able to care for my mom in a safe, clean environment. I began to search for assistance, through churches, senior care centers, family members, friends, anything I could think of. And if doing this is not demeaning enough, the rejection of my siblings to assist surely would send me into depression. But there is really no time for that now. Due to the sale of my newly acquired sectional couch, I called Mr. West and told him what I had been able to do. He accepted my measely $350 and turned the water on. I asked of the sole responsibility of the leak being on me. He stated the only policy they have is if it goes through your meter its your responsibility. ALL he can do is set up payment arrangements ! So what they will do for me is LET me pay $109. over my regular bill each month for a year until it is paid off ! Now that's customer service at its best ! I requested my last 2 years statements to be sent to me, with no avail. It is impossible to correctly chart the water usage without them since the residential history began over for everyone in January of 2010!
I realize this is a lot for someone to take in all at once. But I do not have any time to waste. My water is at risk of being turned off TODAY.
I spent the last month researching and speaking to people who have had similar stories. I spoke to a man who told me that when he had a leak in the alley on his side, the meter man turned off the water and left a note on his door telling him he needed to make repairs to the pipe coming into his property. Now this seemed to be very logical while living up to the level of customer service the City of Phoenix boasts about on their website. Obviously we didn't have the same meter man. Another woman in my neighborhood said they did the same to her when she had a leak in the alley. She did have to pay a high bill, but at least it was only for one month! When speaking to another CSR at the City of Phoenix, it was remarked, "I don't know why this wasn't audited".
Most large cities use a smart grid enabled services and technology, for their utility departments, enabling customers to be proactive smart energy users. If this was the case here in Phoenix, surely billing could have caught this and made an effort to notify me. But for whatever reason they did not. Not until the forth month of irregular usage that is. I called the maintenance department to try to get maintenance records for my area of service. I know that at least twice in the last 7 months, December and January to be exact, my water was shut off so they could make repairs to my line. I wondered what kind of repairs were needed ? Could a surge have had anything to do with this sudden break in the pipe at my meter? I tried to get some of these questions answered by customer service, however I was told they did not have any records like that. Again, really? When I asked to be directed to the department that could help me, I was connected to a woman who stated the only notation on my address was that a neighbor called and complained that I was filling my swimming pool with the fire hydrant. This while I was not even home. I had a pool plasterer re doing my pool and he had a construction meter to fill pool when he was done. It was part of the fee. He pays the City monthly for how much water runs through his meter.
So could this be the reason for the total lack of customer service. This petty complaint, which is apparently the only record for my address of 23 years which maintenance has on file. What about the installation of the new meter? The City of Phoenix has been doing a major overhaul of the residential meters in the metro Phoenix area over the past 2 years. Replacing meters which would allow the employees to read meters with a computerized scan tool, saving time, ensuring the safety of the water services employee's against dogs at large, inconveniently located meters etc. Still a huge difference in a customers usage should trigger a red flag.
Another issue I attempted to research was the repairs the City was making in January at the end of my alley which resulted in a full day of no water.
So currently, I have a turn off scheduled for July 15th, and a note on my statement saying that a new deposit may be assessed. In addition to the ridiculously high sewer fees, they have added a 3% late charge on any unpaid balance. Therefore, my late fee is twice as much as my water usage bill! I totally agree with no tolerance for DUI's and other issues, but this is a complete outrage. I feel completely helpless. This will, for sure, deplete all my efforts over the years to overcome the obstacles that have challenged my abilities to provide a good life for my family.
I just got a new used couch to replace the last one I sold to pay the water bill. Like my kids say, " Don't get too attached to anything around here!" We do what we have to in order to survive and stay together. I have taught my kids to be right, polite, respectful, and they have learned well. It is just a hard lesson in a situation such as this, because we have always conserved water, turning off while brushing teeth, not letting water run while loading dishwasher, not letting hoses run unnecessarily. And now we must pay for water we never even got to use! It is a lesson all to familiar lately when dealing with the government and its policies.
If you made it to the end of my saga, God Bless You, and thank you for caring enough to read.
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