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City relieves 'extremely high' bill

by James Ehle - jehle@h-ponline.com

The City of Huntington provided some relief for a woman who was charged nearly $6,500 in water bills following a leak at a property she owned.

Karen Sandlin of Huntington was told that she had an “extremely high” water bill of almost $4,000 when she was notified by the City’s Water Department.

According to Jennifer Gunn, Water Department Office Manager, as soon as the department saw the unusually high bill, they acted and shut the water off.

Sandlin says there was no way for her to tell there was a leak on the property. She says she frequently mowed the lawn of the unoccupied home.

“There’s no visible sign of water standing,” Sandlin said. “The grass wasn’t growing any taller there.”

Sandlin was originally given an adjustment of $559.80 by the Water Department.

“I understand that there is a purification process for the water, but you know, that was water that didn’t get used by anybody,” Sandlin said.

The second bill Sandlin received was in the amount of $2,486, with an adjustment for the second bill at $1,495.

“I thought the $559.80 was extreme. I was very upset with this amount,” Sandlin told board members. “I told them I would not pay it until I found a resolution with the Board of Works.”

Sandlin said her first bill was $3,942.78. The water portion of the first bill was $1,194.89 and the rest was sewage in the amount of $2,714.15.

The water portion of the second bill was $845 and sewage at $1,561, with an adjustment of $1,495.

The two water bills combined amounted to $6,428.78, and the amount Sandlin was expected to pay following the adjustments was over $2,000.

Gunn says the water department plugs the water billing numbers into an Xcell spreadsheet which calculates the adjustment for a water bill in the event of a leak. Gunn said the second adjustment was not as big because the formula took into account the first adjustment.

There is a City Ordinance in place that has guidelines for the amount of adjustment the Water Department can make on bills.

“With water lines, it’s the property owner’s responsibility from the meter pit in, and with sewer lines it’s the same thing,” Mayor Brooks Fetters said. “We do have individuals who are not nearly as consciencous as Ms. Sandlin, who don’t fix their stuff, and they just let water go and there’s high bill after high bill ...”

Fetters applauded the efforts of Gunn and her staff for addressing the abnormally high bill by shutting off the water immediately and contacting Sandlin about the issue.

“When she called me she had her guy out there telling him to turn it off right then,” said Sandlin.

After the information was presented to the board during their Oct. 21 meeting, board members decided to offer a resolution at the Nov. 4 meeting.

“What we’re trying to wrestle with is Ms. Sandlin has been responsible, she’s taken care of the leak,” said Fetters. “But we also have an ordinance that’s designed to prevent abuse.”

At the Nov. 4 meeting, board member Dwight Braudigum presented a motion to approve a new adjustment amount and for council to look into adjusting the current ordinance to reflect scenarios where property owners are unaware of leaks.

The board came to an agreement on an adjustment for Sandlin to pay $715 of the nearly $6,500 combined water and sewage bills. The $715 amount included the $559.80 adjustment she paid on the first bill.