On Your Side Investigation: Birmingham Water Works billing problems

Published: Feb. 2, 2017 at 11:00 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 21, 2017 at 8:11 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - How can you be using $500 worth of water in a month where you don't even live in your house? That's what some Vestavia neighbors wanted to know. They started calling the Birmingham Water Works Board but weren't satisfied with the answers they got, so they turned to our WBRC FOX6 Call for Action team.

We've been getting a lot of Water Works customer calls about unusually high bills, especially since the utility switched to a new billing system last fall.

Two Vestavia neighbors were so suspicious, they took their water bills out to the water meter on the street, read the meter themselves, and saw the Cubic Feet reading on the meter was lower than what their bill showed when that bill came out days or even weeks before. That should theoretically be impossible because your meter resets when you buy a property and should only ever go up as you use more water, not backwards.

"It's certainly made me pay much more attention to what's going on with that meter," said Tonya Kemper, one of the neighbors who contacted us. "It's unacceptable, it's inexcusable, and it really needs to stop."

Tonya and neighbor Carol Eidson started emailing their neighbors and found several dealing with similar issues, including one homeowner who hasn't been living in her home for several months, but was getting a $500 water bill each month.

Tonya and Carol spent days hounding the Water Works Board on the phone and in person to finally get a credit on their accounts, but they suspect some of their neighbors have been overpaying for several billing cycles, money they'll likely never get back.

"What is the lady that has three children, working a minimum-wage job, single, that doesn't have time to meet the meter reader or doesn't have time to get in the queue down there, or be the 50th caller, or take off - What is she gonna do when she gets a disconnect notice because she can't pay her bill?" Eidson said.

We asked the Water Works Board for an interview to get answers to these questions, but were told they don't have time to answer our questions this week, maybe next week they'll get back to us.

So how do you make sure your meter's being read correctly? Check out an explainer video below:

Mobile readers can watch the video at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeJKhmfySyI

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