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.