In a city where about half of the residents live on the margins of being able to afford basic needs, there are probably not that many people who can afford a near $5,000 water bill.

But that’s exactly what Frederick resident Denise Sansonese was hit with this quarter after her toilet was left running for several days because she is deaf and could not hear it. Thankfully, her son, who can hear, discovered the running water while he was visiting from college. Otherwise, the bill could have been even higher.

Sansonese, presumably like many, can’t afford a $5,000 water bill and wondered if her water would end up being shut off if she couldn’t pay on time.

That’s when the Frederick Community Action Agency stepped in and offered to pay the bill. That a charitable organization stepped in to help is not surprising. Frederick is an extremely generous community. But judging by the response from residents following our story on Tuesday, Sansonese isn’t the only person who has had issues with inordinately high water bills.

The Frederick Community Action Agency can’t step in and pay the bills for everybody. And we’re not expecting the city’s water department to forgive those bills either.

We do, however, expect the city to find a way to keep bills from becoming this large in the first place. But, so far, the city has remained quiet about any solutions it might have about how they might address this issue in the future.

Instead, in what we’ve found to be a recurring theme lately with the city on other issues, they offered no response to our reporter regarding Sansonese’s situation, and, according to her, have appeared to put in minimal effort to even respond to her concerns.

Angering her son even more was that when his mother needed an interpreter to help her navigate through the city’s process, she was told that one couldn’t be found. Talk about adding insult to injury.

The city’s handling of the situation is concerning to say the least and likely entirely avoidable. If it doesn’t already, the city could, and probably should, implement a tracking system that alerts residents via phone or email notification when their water use is higher than normal. It would help track leaks, save water and, of course, money. We know that other jurisdictions across the country do. We also know that there are instances where a portion of the bill is rebated when a leak or other mechanical failure contributes to a jump in water usage.

For instance, the city could install Flume water usage trackers (which cost $200 each) for its hard-of-hearing residents so they can be more aware if water is leaking. That would likely be a minimal cost worth investing to avoid the headaches or potentially causing great financial hardship for residents over a water bill.

Regardless of the solution, the city must start by realizing that there’s a problem. According to the city’s website, the average water bill for a house of two should be around $230 for between 13,000 and 18,000 gallons of water. There’s a large gap between $230 and $4,800. According to the city’s billing structure on its website, a bill for $4,800 would require more than 375,000 gallons of water to be consumed.

Such usage should have triggered an alarm. While homeowners bear some responsibility, the city does too. As the provider of this service, they should have noticed a spike in usage and stopped it. It’s a failure on the city’s water department that they weren’t more helpful.

(27) comments

Quisling

Why does she need an interpreter, if she can read and write English she can communicate.

H-M-Glover

Who wrote this article??

cjrighter

It's an editorial

H-M-Glover

Yes I know what it is, but if someone wrote this wouldn't it be smart to put your name on this???

Ruthcf

I do not believe the City did not notice this before it got so high. You are right somebody is not doing their job.

gary4books

One thing to remember as a solution is that most people can read their water meter frequently and if they do not hear water running can still manage the problem. We do not have to wait for a once every three months bill to know. The same goes for gs and electric connections. We can manage our utilities. The technology helps, but it is not the only way to save money. Due diligence, works too.

gary4books

One added thought: if reading the meter frequently is a smart thing to do, and IF these products we can buy make this easier, we have to ask one question. "What does the City use to read the meters? And can a homeowner or renter get the same system to read their meter at a distance easier) and send the data to be saved in a computer or other device?" I suspect it is a rather expensive system to work from a vehicle, but one that may have other less expensive versions for homeowners. Who can check this for us? FNP?

OldJay

The city, county and state mandate ramps on curbs, accessible entrances and other amenities for persons with mobility problems. Yet deaf and hard-of-hearing persons are the largest disability group in the U.S. Improving the ability to detect leaks in plumbing would be far less expensive.

By the way, I too had a leak that could not be detected by watching the toilet bowl. A kind plumber, installing a new water heater, heard the leak and fixed it. We had wondered why our water bill was higher than usual.

threecents

Toilet leak detector: https://www.amazon.com/nth-Solutions-LLC-LeakAlertor-6000/dp/B01N3ARQOL/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=toilet+leak+detector&qid=1572639867&sr=8-4

MD1756

While I can sympathize with equipment failure costing someone money the owner can take steps of their own to minimize potential costs. instead, the editorial make the homeowner a vicitm of a utility not doing enough to stop a homeowner from not acting properly. The article even provides the data for usage. It would take more than 375,000 gallons of water consumed to get a $5,000 quarterly water bill. If a toilet ran at 5 gpm, that would be 7,200 gallons per day. It seems like it would take more than a few days (as claimed) of constant water flowing to make a $5,000 water bill. In any event the article says "For instance, the city could install Flume water usage trackers (which cost $200 each) for its hard-of-hearing residents so they can be more aware if water is leaking. That would likely be a minimal cost worth investing to avoid the headaches or potentially causing great financial hardship for residents over a water bill."
Why can't the homeowner pay to have one installed? Why should the city pay? If a homeowner didn't want to pay $200 to have one of those devices installed, a cheaper alternative would be for homeowner to wait to see if their toilets stop flushing. That may take all of 30 seconds? Additionlly the owner could do a daily (or more frequent) inspection(s) of their water devices and that would cost nothing and take maybe 2 minutes per complete inspection of the house/apartment.
If one is complaining about costs, providing an interpreter for the few people who might need it once every few years is also not a way to cut costs. So the only other way for a utility to cut its bills would be to underfund their water treatment. Id that what you really want?
The homeowner bears more than some responsibility. They bear almost all of the responsibility unless the faulty equipment was city equipment. All I can say is I'm glad I have well water.

threecents

MD[thumbup]

gabrielshorn2013

Good response MD1756. I was having difficulty with the story because of the math. 5 gph is a pretty large flow rate, and is about 2.5x the flow rate of a typical shower. That's a lot of water, especially for a toilet valve.

gabrielshorn2013

Correction. GPM not gph.

TomWheatley

My thoughts exactly. It was a lot longer than 'a few days'.

gary4books

We have building codes to regulate how electricity is provided in our homes. Exposed wires are not allowed to protect us from the electricity. Why not code to protect us from economic loss?

MD1756

You have a code that regulates how water is provided. The supplier is responsible for supplying the water (or in your example, electricity). They are not responsible for how the consumer uses the resource (water of electricity). The power company doesn't monitor your home to see if no one is watching a TV left on for days at end, nor does the water company monitor individual homes to see if someone has used more water than normal for a couple of days (which this clearly wasn't a couple of days and I was generous when I used a 5 gpm rate in my calculation). As far as a code to protect us from economic loss, to put it bluntly and/or undiplomatically, How do we regulate stupidity, forgetfulness, inattention, etc.? We can't. The individuals bear most of the responsibility. If I didn't have the ability myself to tell if something was working or not, I'd make certain there were other means to notify me if something was wrong and in my previous comment I provided just some simple cheap examples. The bottom line is water treted to drinking water standards was used and needs to be treated. Should the tax payers/ rate payers be required to pay or should the individual be required to pay? If there is no responsibility, you get that slippery slope of people wasting resources becuase they may ultimately not be responsible. Now if someone wants to start a charitible fund to pay for others' utilities (and there are plenty of examples), then that is the way to handle it. I wonder if anyone has changed their behavior as a result of this article or do they rely on the "it won't happen to me" model for prevention of this type of situation?

gary4books

Code requires a "A residual-current device (RCD), or residual-current circuit breaker (RCCB), is a device that quickly breaks an electrical circuit to prevent serious harm from an ongoing electric shock." Wikipedia. Why not the same for water? Why this opposition for reasonable expenditures?

nbouqu1

The City's response is typical and points to a need to completely clean house at City Hall with the political leadership at the very least.

KMRD1

Again the City of Fredville, in the County of Fredgomery screwed the pooch again. That is why I packed up my stuff and left the state after 55 years of being born and raised there. This town has gone to the dogs. As much as I dislike Blaine Young, I hope he makes it as the next mayor of Fredneck. At least he knows what he’s doing.

richardlyons

Adios!

threecents

RL[thumbup]

gary4books

I never thought he did not know. I just thought much was the wrong thing to do.

gary4books

Water is precious and drinking water is valuable. We live next to the greatest store of freshwater in the world - the Great Lakes. So anything we can do to conserve our water and not waste it should be a conservative goal. For that reason, all Conservatives should support the use of City Funds to provide these devices to alert people when their use is high or if they have a "leak." This should not be a partisan issue. Our city may be able to negotiate a package deal to lower the cost of individual units, and I would want the city to pay at least half. The rest could be paid off over a year or so. Then we will have a modern system and perhaps cut back on meter reads if the data goes to the Cloud of data we can share.

Reader1954

I would think there could be some type of software program that could trigger an alert if for example, your monthly usage doubled. People could sign up and receive an email alert. That would make them aware of a possible problem to fix.

BlueFredneck

It'd require smarter meters that can report home - or if we're stuck with dumb meters, the ability to run out and check my meter and then know how to read it.

FCPS-Principal

From the last para, how is the city supposed to know how much water anyone is using at any time? Unless there is a smart meter installed, the only way to know if there has been a spike in water use is to read the meter every hour and compare that reading to calculated hourly averages in the past. Or daily. Or weekly. And even if there was a smart meter installed, there has to be software running to calculate the water use over a given interval, like, a week, and compare those readings with past readings (which don't exist) in order to create an alarm. Smart meters are used because they save money, allow cities to lay off meter readers. It's much more profitable in these cases to do nothing and cut off the water or take the handicapped person to court.

ma23464

What he said. City can’t really know about this until it read the meter. Maybe if she was using 500000 gallons a day a red flag might go up someplace, but that amount over months is a drop in the bucket for the city.

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