High water bills have residents calling foul

Marney Simon
Staff writer

Phones have been ringing off the hook at City Hall in Braidwood. On the other end of the line — angry residents who say their water bills have skyrocketed for no good reason.

“We’ve gotten quite a few phone calls about high consumption on the water bills,” Commissioner Jim Hutton told members of the City Council on Aug. 8.

In fact, City Clerk Sue Grygiel said the office had been “inundated” with calls from folks who said their most recent bills were too high, more than double the usual amount in some cases.

But despite a flood of bills that seem higher than usual, city officials said they’ve checked and double checked, and the numbers are correct.

“Meters don’t lie, so it could be that she had a leak, or usage, or, I’m not sure what’s going on,” Hutton said.

Hutton said the problem is likely two-fold: residents are comparing bi-monthly bills to their previous one month billing cycle; and consumption often increases in summer.

“It’s simple math, what’s your consumption,” Hutton said. “They don’t have any idea how many they had used. There’s no billing problem; there’s a problem with filling the kiddie pool two times a day. They don’t realize that 1,000 gallons is not a lot of water.”

Hutton said public works crews performed random tests with the water meter readers, and found that the equipment was working correctly. He also noted that a quick comparison showed that the water bills in Braidwood are similar to those in Wilmington.

Hutton said many residents are likely being thrown off by the bi-monthly billing. He said homeowners can look at old monthly bills, and the current bill should be roughly double. But, if residents are still seeing higher consumption than usual, they might want to check their pipes for leaks, especially under their homes.

“Once people think about it, they can find the discrepancy,” Hutton said. “The biggest thing is consumption. Just look at what you did the last couple of months. You can solve part of it yourself... We really haven’t been able to find anything to say, this is the problem.”

The Braidwood Journal asked readers to weigh in on our Facebook page, to see how many residents had seen what they consider excessive increases on their water bills.

More than 200 people commented, many expressing anger and even disgust at the rising bills, while some were surprised to find out that they weren’t alone.

“Ours was higher this last two-month period by around $50, and our water pressure is occasionally just a trickle,” one poster wrote.

“Ours went up by $50... no extra usage here,” wrote another.

“About $60 more than in June! Not happy,” commented yet another resident.

Respondents noted that their overall bill had gone up anywhere from $30 to $100.

“Mine was doubled,” another poster wrote. “I thought maybe my family was using too much water because it was summer!”

For some of those responding, however, the increased bill was the result of a fixed accounting glitch. In July, city leaders announced that residents of Braidwood would see their bi-monthly water and sewer bill go up by about $30, the result not of a rate increase but a clerical error in the city’s billing system that was only charging residents for one month of sewer use instead of two.

The increase reflects in bills from July forward, but the city has no plans to recoup the money it lost due to the billing error.

Even for those experiencing the higher sewer rate that was announced earlier this summer by the city, some posters noted that they were just as outraged by the lack of information from the city as they were about the bills themselves.

“[The city] should send a notice in the mail with your bill saying we were not charged properly and break it down into smaller portions,” one commenter wrote. “Sliding it in the bill like this causes people to go off budget. This will probably cause shutoffs for people already pinching pennies. I mean, let’s be a little fair here. This makes me mad that there was not one professional letter from the city to each customer saying they had an error and say what happened and how they were going to work with their customers and resolve this. This could have been handled way better than this way!”

City officials said in addition to checking their meter readers, they also checked with the city’s billing software provider to make sure there was not a glitch in the system. Hutton said that software is working properly.