The Saratoga Sun -

Phantom numbers add up to boatload of trouble for water billing


Some residents have discovered what has been described as a “phantom number” on their water bills for the past several years.

“If you add up these numbers the sum is less than amount due. That means there is a number there that is not there,” said Saratoga resident Chris Shannon who has experienced the mystery charge.

Shannon has three months of water bills for a piece of property he owns known as Orion Point. Those bills express the charge. For bills in the months of February, March and April, the individual line items did not add up to the total amount due, meaning there was an additional charge.

According to Town Clerk Suzie Cox, the additional charge that is not itemized in the bill represents a delinquency charge.

Cox said the charge was already being applied to delinquent bills when she took the town clerk position in 1993.

“I just assumed it was something that was initiated and I didn’t know that the penalties were going to become an issue,” Cox said.

Cox told council members in a July 16 council meeting the town’s billing software would automatically charge consumers a percentage of the bill after three months of delinquent bills.

Cox said she stopped billing water customers late fees in April because the charges went against town ordinance, which states the town can charge a delinquency fee of $1.25 every 15 days a single bill is late. Town ordinance does not mention charging a percentage of a bill as a delinquency fee.

Saratoga resident Cindy Bloomquist spoke in the July 16 council meeting voicing her concern about the Orion Point bill.

“As far as I am concerned, the town owes us money,” she said in the meeting.

The Orion Point bills reflected about a 4 percent charge per month that was not itemized on the bills but showed up in the amount due sections.

Bloomquist said the 4 percent charge was illegal, calling it an interest charge.

Cox said the number that was not itemized on the bill for Orion Point was not interest; it was a delinquency fee.

Cox said she has terminated the account for Orion Point.

“I have made over $1,200 adjustments on (The Orion Point account). At this point I have zeroed it out and it is terminated. The only way they will get water for irrigation out there is if they buy a meter pit and a meter.”

According to the town’s ordinance, the town of Saratoga can turn off a customer’s water after 60 days of delinquency.

“We have always been very careful working with people who have delinquencies,” Cox said. “Rather than following the ordinance to the letter and going out and discontinuing service. That is the last thing we want to do.”

However, Cox said the town has the option of being more stringent with enforcing the ordinance.

Lingering issues

Saratoga resident D’Ron Campbell voiced her concerns at the July 16 meeting asking for a solution to the high water bills that have plagued several Saratoga residents last month.

She said, although corrected, her water bill accounted for 54,000 gallons when she does not use town water to irrigate. She also said her last bill accounted for 7,000 gallons of water.

Campbell suggested the town begin to charge everyone the flat rate which is $25 for 7,000 gallons of water or less.

“If we know that there are all these problems with the water meter systems in town why aren’t we being charged the basic rate until we figure it all out?,” she said.

Water and Sewer Joint Powers Board member Ed Glode also suggested the town adopt a solution.

“It is hard for me to justify the biggest bill you have ever seen in your life when there are no good numbers on the other side of it,” Glode said.

The board previously voted to suggest to the Saratoga Town Council to fix inaccurate bills on a case-by-case basis until next month. If the billing system was still producing inaccurate numbers, it would adopt another solution.

“Having 300 coming to see Suzie each month is not a real efficient use of her time,” Glode said.

The town later voted to adopt the Water and Sewer Jount Powers Board’s suggestion.

“I think we have talked this to death,” Judy Welton said. “We know we are all trying really hard to get it to work.”

Editor’s note: This is the second story in a series of stories relating to water usage and systems in Saratoga.


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