RMWD customer says high water bill due to faulty meter
By Karen Brainard
A Ramona man is asking the Ramona Municipal Water District for an arbitration hearing and is considering legal action because he said sudden spikes in his water bills over the past 10 years have been due to a faulty water meter.
Water district staff said there is no evidence that the water meter has been in error.
One of the five directors on the water board — Kit Kesinger — has been interested in George Newman’s case, but said he needs to see more evidence that the meter is not working properly.
“I think the evidence is fairly good, not conclusive,” Kesinger said.
Newman appealed to the water board in December asking that he be granted credit for 852 units of water, at a total cost of $3,944, from what he said were sudden spikes in usage from 2000 to 2011.
His action was spurred by a bill from June 17 to Aug. 2, 2011, in which usage went up 1,100 percent from the previous year. During the June to August billing periord, Newman said, there were 15 days when his rental property on Duraznitos Road was vacant.
“It went up to over 3,000 gallons per day,” he said of that billing period.
Newman, who said he was responsible for water and sewer services as a manager for the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, from 1960 to 1981, said there are many articles online about faulty water meters.
“Forty years ago I had this problem up in Canada,” he said.
District staff, however, reported to the board that the meter was found to be operating properly and that there was a visible water leak at the rear of the house and a hose bib was frozen in an open position.
Newman said at 3,000 gallons per day, the ground should not have been as dry as it appeared in the photos that staff took.
RMWD General Manager David Barnum recommended the board deny Newman’s request and finalize a payment arrangement for a remaining balance of $227.
Although the board voted unanimously to approve the general manager’s recommendation, Kesinger told Newman he would work with him if he could show evidence that the meter was faulty.
Newman obtained the meter readings from RMWD and said they show instances since 2000 that the meter appears to stick or “roll over” so the reading is much higher than it should be.
Newman sent his information to Kesinger, but at the same time was receiving past due notices for his remaining balance, which had become $329.18 with penalties, and threats of shut-off. Kesinger advised him to pay the bill and seek a refund if he could present evidence that it was in error.
During the week before Easter, Newman said the district put a lock on the water meter of his neighboring rental property on Duraznitos Road where the district had transferred the bill.
Newman said that, because the water bill for that property had been paid, he cut the lock off and advised RMWD and Kesinger what he had done and why, but another lock was installed. The same scenario took place, he said, and when a third lock was put on, his tenant on that property had no running water over Easter weekend.
Kesinger told the Sentinel he had conducted some Internet searches but couldn’t find the same type of meter error that Newman talked about, but he is still open to seeing evidence.
“We’ve had a lot of these appeals to the board of water that people say are overcharges,” he said.
Newman pointed out an article in the San Diego Union Tribune in February, about residents near Mission Valley complaining of unexplainable water hikes.
Barnum said Internet searches on faulty water meters do not show the same type of issue Newman is claiming. He said staff reported the hose bib could have been frozen on for 60 days and the ground was not necessarily saturated because the bib was attached to a soaker hose.
Barnum said he has not talked with Newman but if he can present new evidence about the meter, it could be brought back to the board.
“It’s our pleasure to work with our customers,” he said.
Newman said he believes he has been treated unjustly and is grateful that one board member is willing to work with him.
Kesinger said the issue has become more contentious than it should be and the board should be more focused on the citizens of Ramona.
“I wish that the district was more receptive to our customers’ needs and sensitivity,” Kesinger said. “What I see is the district is operating like a big business.”
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