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$26,966 water bill stuns Victoria homeowner

By BY MELISSA CROWE - MCROWE@VICAD.COM
Jan. 24, 2013 at 6:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 24, 2013 at 7:25 p.m.

Copy of the water bill Aileen Coffman received.

Have a 9.99 million gallon bill?

Contact Utility Billing Department

Address: 700 Main Center, Suite 106, Victoria

Office Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday

Drive-thru Hours: 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday

Phone: 361-485-3400

There are large bills, and then there are downright astronomical bills.

When Joe Cornish, 53, opened his water bill Thursday morning, he gasped at the $26,966 charge.

"I thought there was a leak, but with that much water, the house would have floated away," Cornish said.

The amount charged was for 9.99 million gallons - more than 15 Olympic-size swimming pools and more than 2.5 million toilet flushes.

"You're not expecting something like that," he said, especially since the house on North De Leon Street, owned by his mother Aileen Coffman, is empty and on the market.

Donald Reese, Public Works assistant director, said the situation is "unique."

U.S. Bronco, the contractor hired by the city to install the meters, left the meter at "9999" and did not report the initial reading, Reese said.

However, the city set the first reading to zero, the standard for a new meter. When utility staff checked the meter for billing, the meter still read "9999," making it appear as though millions of gallons of water had been used, Reese said.

Victoria City Council approved the new meters in March. Installation started in July and was completed in mid-January.

The hope was the new automatic reader meters would improve security and tamper detection, improve leak protection, increase efficiency, reduce operations and maintenance costs and improve customer service and data collections.

Reese said "the reading was accurate," but the start numbers did not match.

"I can see where that would kind of freak him out a little bit," he said.

Although Reese said this was the first instance he has heard of, Cornish said the billing clerk was familiar with the issue.

"I wasn't the first one," he said. "If it happened to me, it'll happen again."

When the mistake was corrected, Cornish ended up owing $61.49.

Cornish worries about the next water customer who gets surprised with a high bill.

"If an older person gets that mistake, they start thinking what to do to get it all corrected," he said. "Don't panic if you get one."

Reese said anyone who gets a bill with an obvious mistake should call public works to investigate it.

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