Matewan residents voice complaint concerning rising price of water bills

Rachel Dove rbaldwin@civitasmedia.com

March 12, 2014

By Rachel Dove


MATEWAN - A couple who recently bought a home in North Matewan and became full-time residents of the area near the end of 2013 have contacted the Daily News concerning what they claim is a mistake in the amount the Matewan Water Department claims they owe for water use, and expressed their concern that these problems affect other families in addition to their own.

Joyce Bertschy discussed the water problems the couple have had in an email to the Daily News. Following is a portion of that email:

“My husband and I keep track of our water meter usage just in case we’ve had an incorrect reading, seeing that they are read manually. We received our bill from Matewan Sewer and Water for the dates reading from January 21 to Feb. 25. The bill stated that we had consumed 4,800 gallons of water for that time period, which came to a cost of an additional $63 this month. Our average billing on any given month has been for 1,000 to 1,500 gallons, with a billing cost of $58.

“When we received the bill for our last cycle period, I knew something had to be wrong, so we contacted the billing department to have them come out and reread the meter and check for dial movement for possible leakage between the meter and the house, thinking that they could have possibly transposed a number. To our surprise the reading was what they said it was, with no leaking on our side. So we mailed them the payment of $121.

“The more we thought about it over the weekend, we kept telling ourselves that there was no way that the two of us could have used an extra 3,500 gallons of water in one month. We’ve never had any reading higher, close to 4,800 gallons, even during the summer. The highest reading we’ve ever had was 2,900 gallons, which was due to three days of power washing the house and new tree planting in June of last year. I also started researching water meter issues online and began learning of air valve problems that occur after water line breaks and repairs, and found out how it can cause irregular or inconsistent readings by creating rotating impeller and gears quickly and escalate readings by rushing air pressure through the gauges.

“This means you can be getting an air reading instead of the actual water usage. It dawned on me that there was a new property installation during that time period that could have possibly caused our meter to give a false reading. So I printed off the material and presented it to the billing office in Matewan, along with my past months readings, so I could point out what could have happened.

“The immediate response was that they “had never heard of such an issue,” and told us to contact the Veolia Water Maintenance Department and discuss it with them. They said nothing about correcting the billing or looking into the problem. I left my reading material with them anyway in hopes that they would review it and check in to the possiblity of this being a problem. As far as they were concerned, the reading was what it was, so the cost is what it is.

“I stood there dumbfounded, knowing that when you go to a utility company fully aware that you have been overcharged for a service that you did not receive, the issue is checked and adjustments are made.

“Our next step was to request an evaluation of our meter. We didn’t want this to be an issue again in the future. I started extending my search by collecting information on our street and found others with the same issues as ours. But what I found interesting was those who just accepted it as a little overage due to having company and didn’t find it necessary to bring it to the Matewan Water Department’s attention.

“I was astounded to see some of the bills of those who had readings of marginal errors, such as zero usage due to broken dials from freezing temperatures, but still using their regular quantity with households of four people and paying the minimum of $58. My next-door neighbor, who is single and works fulltime averages 900 gallons per month, and his usage last month was only 100 gallons. When he showed me his bill, he never noticed the usage total, because he still paid the same amount. He was very surprised to see the total.

“So here’s my point … some of us are paying for water we are not getting and then some are not paying for water they are getting.

“I decided to begin a written survey for those who wanted to participate, to have the billing issue corrected. I made up a generic form which basically consisted of recording the last six months of dated statements on their water bills, or if they don’t have that information any longer, the total dollars paid, for each month of the last six months. The information can then be compiled and submitted to council at the utility board and town council meetings on March 18t in Matewan. I have also posted signs in local public places to bring attention to anyone having the same problem that my husband and I are having.”

Bertschy said she implores others who have experienced a substantial increase in their water bills to join her at the March 18 meeting in an attempt to make complaints known, on the record, and to attempt to have the problem resolved.

“Hopefully I won’t be the only one presenting this issue at the town hall meeting. It’s not only a street issue, but now it’s a widespread issue from our street,” Bertschy said.

Calls made to the Maintencance Department of Veolia Water were not returned by presstime Wednesday.