Richmond woman gets refund after paying incorrect wastewater bill for 44 years

Updated: Oct. 27, 2020 at 9:00 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A Richmond woman says the city wore her down haggling and debating over a proper refund amount for 44 years of incorrect billing.

Zenobia Gary paid a city wastewater fee for more than four decades until she discovered her home was never connected to Richmond’s sewer system.

Gary says she was so disgusted and sick and tired of Richmond’s drawn-out process that she gave up and accepted a monetary settlement that’s much less than what she believes she’s owed.

From overcharged to short-changed sums up the experience Zenobia says she had trying to get her refund from the City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities.

“That’s the City of Richmond...You go through all kinds of changes to get anything accomplished with the city,” she said.

The City of Richmond was committed to reimbursing something for her for 44 years of incorrect billing that had Zenobia paying for wastewater services she did not receive.

A plumber digging in Zenobia’s yard - looking for a blockage that caused a commode to back up - unearthed a septic tank that no one knew was receiving sewage flushed from her home. Since then, she says she has been disgusted and frustrated by the process.

Zenobia initially requested a $26,000 refund, which she says she arrived at by adding up the average usage reflected on her bills through the CCF and base fee, and the cost of a plumber to hook her home to the city’s sewer line.

“The amount she’s asking isn’t unreasonable. It’s a rare case,” DPU Director Calvin Farr told On Your Side Investigator Diane Walker in a phone conversation months earlier, and that he would do all he can under his authority to make her whole.

It’s a different sentiment coming out of that office now.

“The lady I was dealing with even suggested that that’s not what he said. Her reply was, ‘let’s not forget we’re dealing with the news.’ I think he went back on what he said,” Zenobia said.

So, Zenobia lowered her refund amount and asked the city to waive the connection fee and hook her up to its sewer system.

It didn’t happen quite like that. In a letter to Zenobia, DPU says it doesn’t have any usage records for the first 20 years of false billing, 1976 to 1996. So, it’s guessing to produce a refund amount based on rate estimates and the family’s water usage, not wastewater. The next 24 years, 1996 to 2020, Richmond says it calculated Zenobia’s actual payments for wastewater she did not receive and came up with a figure on the low side of what the homeowner wanted.

Also, the city did set aside the $200 connection fee but it’s enforcing a higher fee, which Zenobia says caught her by surprise.

“They came up with this sewer capacity fee that’s $1,250 that comes out of my pocket. Some city code she quoted me that won’t permit waiving that fee,” Zenobia said.

While she calls the settlement unfair and the City of Richmond unreasonable, she did accept the offer. Zenobia also says she got nothing but the run around before she called 12 On Your Side.

“I thank Channel 12 because, without your intervening, I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere with it. So, I’m just done with the city and I need to put this behind me. Get hooked up before the weather gets bad so I can move on,” she said.

That letter ended with the city telling Zenobia to request a hearing or file a claim with the city’s attorney if she wants to contest the refund. Zenobia decided not to pursue either. She also asked for the settlement amount not to be disclosed.

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