Hefty water bill baffles homeowner

Resident protests quarterly charge of $1,100, but village stands firm after investigation
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press Staff

In March, Jamie Harbison’s dream of home ownership came true when she was able to buy the three-bedroom, one-bath house on South Milwaukee Street in Fredonia that she and her son had rented for 13 years.

But her joy was quickly tempered when the bill from the village water utility for the first quarter arrived and was mysteriously five times what she normally had paid — up from $200 to more than $1,100.

According to the water meter, her usage went from about 10,000 gallons of water per quarter to more than 123,000.

After weeks of investigating and not being able to learn how so much water could possibly have been used, Harbison was told last week by village officials that she will have to pay the bill.

“They can’t prove I didn’t use the water,” she said.

When she first got the bill, she went to the village, thinking her meter was not operating correctly. But tests by the village and the manufacturer showed it was. 

Adding to the mystery, her less-than-a-year-old water softener showed it had only processed 33,000 gallons over 326 days.

Harbison told village officials she had not left water running and, since the month with the highest usage had been in January, her garden hose had not been connected.

There was no sign of water accumulating anywhere and there was no water damage. Her sump pump had not been running.

In addition, her brother, a professional plumber, had installed the water softener and replaced her water heater. He said he saw no signs of that volume of usage.

Harbison appeared before the Village Board three times, including last week when trustees voted that Harbison will have to pay the bill. 

“The PSC (state Public Service Commission) told us that we have to bill it if it went through the meter, and we feel that the meter is accurate and verified through third party testing,” village Public Works Director Roger Strohm said. 

Harbison can appeal the board’s decision to the PSC. “But they told me no one ever wins that,” she said.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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