HAVERHILL — A resident who was charged $2,800 for six months of water from the city system said officials agreed to reduce her bill by 60 percent, but she’s still angry with the decision.
She also said she was insulted by officials at an abatement hearing.
Anne Proctor said her usual quarterly bill is around $100 for roughly 12,000 gallons of water. But in August, she received a bill for $1,593 for about 185,000 gallons of water — more than 15 times her average water usage for three months. Her next bill was for $1,200, leaving her on the hook for almost $2,800 in total.
Proctor said she hired a plumber, who said he could not find any water leaks in her home. She blames a faulty meter, which she had the city replace for $60 midway through her last billing cycle. Her most recent bill with the new meter was back in the $100 range, city officials said.
At a Nov. 13 hearing, the Water and Sewer Abatement Board agreed to reduce Proctor’s bill by 60 percent. Proctor has since paid it, but she is nowhere near satisfied with the decision.
“They gave no rationale for their decision and I still had to pay around $1,200,” said Proctor, who owns a condex near Haverhill High School. “They just picked a number out of thin air. I hired a plumber at my own expense and he inspected my house twice and said he was sure there wasn’t a leak.”
Proctor said a member of the abatement board also made disparaging remarks to her at the hearing about complaining to the media about her high bill and for showing up late for the hearing. She said she had a work commitment and told the board ahead of time that she would send her father in her place and would be there as soon as possible. She said she arrived before the hearing was over.
The Eagle-Tribune first reported Proctor’s story in August. Proctor said she was also interviewed by a Boston news station, although that interview never aired on television, she said.
“A woman on the board told me, ‘Channel 7 is not the way to fix this,’” Proctor said. “Going to the media is my right and I was insulted that she said that to me. I think it shows her decision was biased and that I was retaliated against for going to the media.”
Proctor said she doesn’t believe the city would have reduced her bill at all if she had not gone to the media.
“I was originally told that I could only get an abatement if I said there was a leak — that the city has a policy of not admitting to faulty meters,” she said. “Obviously I used water, but there’s no way I could ever use that much since I don’t have a pool or a large yard or anything like that. What upsets me, other than how I was treated and talked to at the hearing, is that they used guess work to set my final bill.”
Deputy Public Works Director Robert Ward, who oversees the water and sewer departments, said the city “understands that meters can fail.”
“But her meter was tested and it passed,” said Ward, who is also chairman of the five-member abatement board.
Ward said it is possible that air got into Proctor’s meter and caused a false reading, although such an occurrence would be rare, he said. Ward also said there are many ways a customer could use excessive amounts of water without knowing it and without there being a leak. One such way, for example, is if an internal component of a toilet’s flushing mechanism were to get stuck temporarily, Ward said.
“Someone could have water running in their toilet for a few days and not realize it, and then it could fix itself,” Ward said. “The board recognized that something happened that was not (Proctor’s) fault. That’s why they reduced her bill by 60 percent.”
Ward said the abatement board generally reduces bills by 50 percent if it feels there was a problem that the homeowner was not responsible for or aware of, even if the board believes the meter recorded the correct amount of water use.
“In this case, because the bill was so high, they wanted to give her a little more (of a break than usual),” Ward said. “That’s why they made it 60 percent.”
Ward said he did not hear anyone on the board insult Proctor or say anything to her about her going to the media.
Ward said anyone who doesn’t agree with a decision of the abatement board can ask it to reconsider or go to court. He said no one has ever done either, however.
Ward said water and sewer customers can help avoid running into situations like Proctor’s by checking their water meter readings on a regular basis.