Residents troubled by changes on water bill

Some Fayette County residents have called into question the $3 monthly charge on water bills that serves as a leak protection program to give customers a break when water leaks occur on their property.

While some in the community oppose the new program, county officials said water customers can submit the form included in the water bill and opt out of the program.

County Administrator Steve Rapson said the program was created to financially assist customers dealing with large, unintentional water leaks on their property.

“This past year, the water system made adjustments for hundreds of customer leaks which have dictated a change to our adjustment policy. Under the new program, should you have a large, unintentional leak, you will be charged an average of the previous six months water bills. The total amount of protection provided shall be $1,000 in any twelve month period,” Rapson said. 

The new program will come as good news to some water customers, such as those who have contacted The Citizen in recent years about water breaks on their property and the high prices they had to pay for water that leaked into the ground before they realized that a break had occurred.

For others, the program is an added expense they believe is unnecessary.

Fayette resident Camille Chasteen maintained that water systems have generally worked with homeowners when they receive a large bill due to a leak, something she said happened to her more than 30 years ago when “Fayette dialed our bill down so we did not have to pay for the water lost during the leak.”

Chasteen described the leak protection notification process as “A very poor way to communicate with the system users (with) a very short window between the notice and start of a new fee. (The notice was) very arrogant in tone and timing (and) zero in the customer service department.”

Patricia Walston, a Fayette County senior citizen on Social Security, in a recent letter to The Citizen expressed her “opposition to this new socialist type of water leak decision.

“What next? If my neighbor’s car breaks down will I have to pay a percentage of that as well? What about when he can’t pay his rent or taxes? Why not offer a plan whereas the pipe would be fixed if it leaked – like the $4 a month I pay on my hot water heater that will be replaced should it break down. That way everyone would benefit for what they pay out,” said Walston.

The notice sent in water bills says those not wanting the service can fill out the accompanying form and mail it to the water department to be removed from the program.

The county’s rationale was summed up by Rapson who said, “The thought process for the approach in implementing the leak protection program was to go the route the county felt would be in the best interest of the majority of residents. The water system staff believes the majority of the customer’s would want this protection with some opting out. While there is administrative time and cost to every change we make to our rate payers accounts, the implementation of this new program will generate the fewest changes. To date we have less than 1 percent of customers opting out.”

Citing an example of how the program works, Rapson said, “If a leak on the customer’s side of the meter resulted in a water bill of $700 and the average customer bill for the preceding six months had been $50 per month, then the maximum leak insurance allowed would reduce the customer’s bill by $650 to $50. That is, the amount of the average monthly bill of the preceding six-month period. If the customer had another leak within the 12 months they would still have $350 available for credits. No credit shall be given in any12 month period above $1,000; nor to anyone who has opted out of coverage. In order to apply for payment protection coverage, an eligible customer shall submit proof of repairs in writing.”