‘It’s just not right’

Siler City residents voice concerns over high water bills

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SILER CITY — Ashley Hicks has been paying the water bill for her home on North Sixth Street for most of the 35 years she’s lived there, but a huge spike last month got her attention.

“You can’t expect me to pay something when you don’t even know what I’m using,” Hicks told the News + Record. “I’m not paying a water bill for October that’s that amount of money, and … they better adjust it to where it’s normal water usage for me because I’ve done nothing different.”

Hicks’ most recent water bill was nearly $400. That was more than three times her usual bill, and reflected a shocking amount of usage: 30,000 gallons of water, or about 1,000 gallons per day, over the course of a billing period.

When she called the town’s billing department to inquire, she was told she might have a leak. Hicks immediately went to her water meter, which was covered with dirt and appeared not to have been checked lately.

“I finally got it lifted up and I got down there and my meter is covered in almost six inches of dirt,” Hicks said. “I know they had not been checking my stuff, you could just tell by looking at it.”

The meter also didn’t indicate a leak, so she had a plumber come to her house. They determined there wasn’t a leak at her property.

She’s not alone, either, in her concerns — and officials from the town say they’re performing an audit to see how the issues arose.

Siler City Town Manager Hank Raper said he was previously unaware of the complaints regarding higher-than-average water bills, but as a result of the complaints, the town is investigating the areas of the supposed elevated water usage.

“We will be performing an audit of the areas in question to pinpoint the specific issue at hand,” Raper said.

“That audit ... will that will tell us more of what’s going on,” Raper said Tuesday. “We have to go through a whole billing cycle to make that kind of assessment.”

Other customers’ high bills

Hicks said her supervisor — who lives in the Siler City Country Club area — also had a higher-than-normal water bill and was told she had a leak. She said her boss (who didn’t want to be named) had over $1,000 worth of work done to her pipes, only to be told she didn’t have a leak, either.

“My boss had to dig up her yard and everything,” Hicks said. “There are multiple people that have the same problem.”

Another resident, Krystal Handley, reached out to the News + Record via Facebook Messenger to voice her concerns regarding her water bill.

“People in Siler City (are) getting high water bills and (are) being told there is a leak when there hasn’t been,” Handley said. “I and a few neighbors and two friends have experienced this.”

Hicks called the town’s billing department to try to explain her situation and get her bill adjusted to what she normally pays, around $80. She said the employee handling her call gave her possible explanations for the higher charge — a leak, or the need for a new water meter — offered to adjust her bill to $172.

“I know nobody has been out here looking at my meter, and she admitted that because she said I need a new meter,” Hicks said. “But why all of a sudden do I need a new meter? How come has nobody discovered that every time they come out to check my water supposedly? It’s just not right.”

Raper was able to confirm some of the meters in town are outdated and are in need of replacement. He said these meters degrade over time and eventually lose some efficacy when it comes to tracking water usage.

“If someone has a meter replaced and their bill goes up, that’s sort of expected because ... the new meter is actually reading it correctly, and in reality, they were actually being under-billed,” Raper said.

Up to this point, Hicks said she knows people who’ve taken the bill adjustments or they’ve spent money trying to fix a problem Hicks says doesn’t exist. She believes the town isn’t checking the meters accurately, and thinks the town’s water department is guessing how much water some households are using.

“To me, somebody is either being shady or someone is not doing the job,” Hicks said. “I’m not paying for somebody else’s slack … There have been several people with the same problem, and they’ve been settling with just the town adjusting their bill. Well, I’m not settling for that.”

Hicks said she hopes the town is able to find a fix for her and her neighbors in a way that won’t impact their livelihoods and wallets.

“I don’t try to make a riot, and I’m not trying to make a fuss,” she said. “I have three kids, I don’t have this kind of money to just be shelling to people that basically have no explanation as to where it’s going or what it’s for.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.

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  • bdavidpoe

    My bill from last month was also 3 times normal. I have no leaks and know for a fact that my meter rarely gets read. I sent a complaint to the town via their website with no reply.

    Friday, October 21 Report this