Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Water Bill Meetings To Be Held Monthly

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Residents who attended an informational meeting about disputed water bills are expected to submit a petition to Mayor Linda Balzotti to act in the matter, including enacting a new ordinance that would require the water department perform an actual meter reading every year—a policy similar to the state’s Department of Public Utilities requirements.
“That’s the industry practice and standard,” said Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois, who along with Councilor-at-large Jass Stewart and numerous residents with Brockton United Voices organized Monday night’s meeting held at the Mary Baker Elementary School.
An estimated 50 to 60 residents joined a dozen city officials including city councilors, Chief Financial Officer John Condon and members of the city’s legal staff for the meeting that is the first in what will be monthly meetings to discuss issues surrounding residents’ disputed bills and a review by an auditing firm of the water and sewer departments metering and billing practices that have resulted in some residents receiving unusually high water bills.
Many residents reported they had estimated bills for years and suddenly received bills last summer that calculated estimated or actual use going as far back as 15 years of water service.
Many residents said they did not and could not have used the amount of water they have been billed and strongly disagree they had an unidentified leak somewhere in their plumbing system.
During the meeting several residents told their individual stories about their disputed water bills. Many recounted how the DPW gave them the run-around or were treated with hostility and annoyance by department representatives. One resident, Ed Miller, said the DPW’s management needs to be looked at closely and maybe some need to lose their jobs over the matter.
“We have someone who runs the water department like a fiefdom,” Miller said, referring to DPW head Michael Thoreson. “If he knows his job is on the line he might run it a little better,” he said.
The petition signed last night calls for a “thorough analysis of management” in the water and sewer departments—a measure over and above any recommendations that the auditing firm, The Abrahams Group will offer once its review is complete at the end of March or early April.
Residents also want city officials to limit how far back residents can be billed for estimated reads, or retroactive billing. City officials have said the law allows them to bill as far back as the transfer of the deed—in some cases 12 or 15 years.
Marianne Silva, a member of Brockton United Voices, a grassroots group formed to keep residents informed about the water bill situation, said the meeting went very well and looks forward to the monthly meetings.
“I think it was very productive, very informative,” Silvia said.
The meeting also showed residents who have high bills or want to dispute the bills what the process is. Silvia said 20 to 30 residents filled out dispute forms requesting abatements with the Department of Public Works—the first step in the dispute process.
Silvia and other volunteers will bring the dispute forms to the DPW today, Feb. 1--the deadline for residents who have received notices that their overdue water bills will be attached to their property taxes to dispute the bills and retain their right of appeal at the state Appellate Tax Board.
The deadline is for residents who refuse to pay their bill because they believe it is erroneous and might not have the money to pay the bill.
Those who have paid their bills, but believe the figure is wrong can fight the bill in small claims, district or superior court.
Some residents have had their bills jump from $93 to $1,100 in one quarter, while others received bills for $5,000, $6,000 or much higher figures such as $17,000 or the most publicized of $100,000.

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