Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Protesters Demand Water Bill, Dept. Changes

Note: Story originally posted Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010
Story and photos by Lisa E. Crowley
Brockton Post
BROCKTON—Whether the bill came eight weeks ago or eight years ago, nearly 100 Brockton residents Monday banded together in a peaceful protest at City Hall Plaza against not only the water department’s billing and metering problems, but also a “circle the wagons” mentality that has frustrated some who have sought to challenge water use bills the department admits could be inaccurate.
“They’re trying to place everything on the homeowners,” said Bob Ford, whose bill jumped from about $205 to more than $12,000 in less than a year and has been fighting his bills for over seven years. “They have said it was underbilling and underestimating…undermanaged—that’s the ‘under’ they didn’t put in,” Ford said.
The group of protesters formed in front of city hall Monday at 3:30 p.m. Several members spoke to media and TV crews, while others collected signatures and have vowed to follow the issue until there is a resolution—a resolution that many believe should include someone’s job.
“They should have been doing more—they should have contacted people, if they knew it was a problem. They didn’t do anything. They circled the wagons and blamed it on the homeowners,” Ford said.
Most in the crowd, like Ayanna Yancey-Cato (Pictured above at top), whose $100,000 bill has been reduced to $17,000, talked of how they had questioned their bill and, in many cases, had the bill reduced, but were not made aware of the system-wide problems, including an admitted problem with the metering and billing system.
Many feel they overpaid for water they did not use.
One of those is MariAnne Silva, (Pictured below) who said she contacted the water department two weeks ago for a bill that jumped from about $200 to over $2,000. She said the amount was reduced by more than $900, but she believes the number is still wrong, but paid it anyway.
“They weren’t helpful at all and I still think (the bill)is wrong,” Silva said.
Two women Sandra Brown (Pictured above with a FIXED bill), and Kathy Jewett, a resident of Fieldside Gardens Condominium were in the minority. Jewett said she received a bill for $55,000 that the meter calculated over an 8-day period.
She had it reduced to $2,000 and believes the water department dealt with her in a friendly way--and no, neither Brown or Jewett are related to anyone working in City Hall.
“If you don’t go in screaming and yelling—and you have to watch your bill. If you’re a homeowner you have to keep track,” Jewett said.
Mayor Linda Balzotti and the City Council are working to hire an independent auditor to review the problems and make recommendations.
Tuesday night, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at city hall the City Council Finance Committee will discuss advertising for an auditor to sort out the bills.
Balzotti, who had prior commitments and did not attend the rally, said in a prepared statement that she is as frustrated as homeowners and will make a presentation during the finance committee meeting.
Councilor-at-large Thomas Brophy said officials are trying to come up with a resolution--including limiting how many years back homeowners should be billed for problems in the city's metering system--because of me and is not yet sure if anyone in the water department should be fired or sanctioned over the matter.
“Should somebody be fired? I’m not ready to assess blame yet,” Brophy said. “I don’t want to lay any blame until we have the audit—the audit will give us a better idea of what happened,” he said.
The city is in the process of replacing its metering and billing system, however, the $11 million project will not be completed for at least 18 months--more than a year and at least four water bill cycles.
In the meantime, Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois (Pictured above talking to homeowner) urged any resident who has questions about their water bills to contact the water department (508-580-7135), mayor's office (508-580-7123) and city council.
For more BrocktonPost.com coverage of the water issue click here.

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