Richmond water customer shocked by almost $2,000 bill

Neighbors in Richmond are starting to see extremely high water bills again as the city’s Department of Public Utilities is trying to improve its billing system.
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 6:26 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) -Neighbors in Richmond are starting to see extremely high water bills again as the city’s Department of Public Utilities is trying to improve its billing system.

One man says he received an invoice saying he owed almost $2,000 for his water this past month, which turned out to be incorrect.

“When you receive a bill that’s four figures compared to what you’re typically used to, it calls for concern,” Northside resident Brad Michael said.

His most recent bill added up to $1920.32, which he says he has never seen before. It charged him for 300 ccfs when his usually is around 30. With that unusual bill came a letter from the city.

“Stating that a review of our records indicates that the meter reading on your current bill has been verified and is correct. So, we would have a lake in the back of this yard if it were correct,” Michael said.

Michael says he checked his house and meter for leaks but found none. He says his water usage was not much different than in previous months.

“It’s normally around 200 to 250 on a monthly basis, but you know, quite honestly, we don’t really know because we’ve been historically receiving estimated bills,” Michael said

Those estimates are what’s confusing Michael. His bill states his home’s last actual reading was in December 2022.

When he went to the city’s DPU office to refute his bill, he says they told him the last real account they had was from August 2020.

“It seems like nobody can tell us what we what we actually used. And, you know, that’s not a very comforting feeling. And, you know, when we’re trying to pay our bills on time and do the right thing.” Michael said.

He then went on the Nextdoor app to see if neighbors were experiencing the same thing. He got numerous comments and reactions there.

A day after posting, the city called him back.

“We literally got a call the next day stating that, ‘Hey, we’ve reviewed your bills for the past six years. Now, we’re noticing that the estimation, or what we billed you for September, is not in line with your historical usage over the last six years,’” he said. “So, they were able to correct that down to about 90% of what we were charged. And so, we are supposed to be receiving a new bill.”

DPU declined an interview but said it is working with the customer. It also said all customers should receive these letters with their bills.

Michael says he will now be checking his meter each month to compare to the city’s numbers, and he encourages others to do the same so situations like this do not happen to other residents.

“Pay attention to whether your bill is an actual or an estimate and compare that to what your water meter shows,” he said. “If they don’t line up, I would have the city come out and take a look. As long as that might take.”

A month ago, DPU told NBC12 it is making progress in its billing system, trying to get more accurate readings. The director then also said a new billing system should be ready by 2026.

These improvements could prevent future situations like Michael’s. The city also apologized to him for the mix-up, calling it an “excessive invoice” in an email.

His bill was adjusted to 35 ccfs as an average of his prior usage. This generated a more than $1,500 credit for Michael on his next invoice.

Michael says he is grateful his system was not on auto-draft, or he could have been out $2,000. He never sent the money over for the initial bill because he wanted to make sure it was accurate first and get an itemized version if possible.

“My wife and I, we have a four-and-a-half-month-old that, you know, we have expenses for, so $2,000 is just not coming out of thin air,” Michael said.