Local nonprofit sees unexplained jump in utility bills

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A Richmond nonprofit troubled by unexplained and expensive changes in their utility bills called NBC12 for help. The money they have to fund their mission now may have to go to pay those charges.

Richmond Randolph No. 19 meets in a historic building on East Franklin Street monthly and says there's no way they've consumed the amount of water stated in the city bill.

The masons are an organization with a lofty mission.

"Masonry is an organization that makes good men better through personal development and outreach to the community," Lee Oppenheim explained.

But now, these good men are in a troubling situation with Richmond evidenced in bills we examined. In July, the utility bill was $90.50. In August, it jumped to $452.91, and then in September, it skyrocketed to $1,319.11.

"As you can imagine as a nonprofit that's quite shocking and unplanned expense to our bottom line," Oppenheim said.

The organization meets in the building less than 25 hours a month. There are only a few sinks and toilets and a recent inspection found no leaks.

"We have very low water consumption," Oppenheim asserted. "It's not a restaurant. We prepare one meal a month in the building and other than using the lavatories we have no water consumption at all."

So, there's no explanation for the jump.

DPU tells NBC12 it gets 99% of its bills from actual meter readings. Those meetings are reviewed for any type of changes that might be outside a customer's usual usage.

"If consumption from a meter reading is outside of these high/low parameters, the city investigates the meter reading with a site visit to the meter," Spokeswoman Angela Fountain explained in a statement. "If this does not resolve the issue then DPU will continue our investigation until the matter is resolved."

After we started digging around, DPU is doing just that and is expected to meet with the masons to change the meter on Friday. At this point though, those high bills from August and September are still on the account.

"We're just not finding resolution with the city and we want to work with them," Oppenheim added. "We're a nonprofit. We're not trying to cause any waves but we need to get this resolved so we can have our books in order."

The masons have also requested an appeal hearing about the account. That has not been scheduled just yet.

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