Several Oak Forest residents have become increasingly perturbed by the steadily-rising costs of water bills they say do not accurately reflect their usage – but say they usually could not get answers from the city.
When Jo Wheeler moved in about two decades ago, she says her water bill was maybe $8.50 per month, then gradually went up as high as $100 per month. Generally, it ranged from anywhere between $59 to $79 per month.
Immediately following Hurricane Harvey, however, she received a $350 bill.
“I don’t know how that’s possible…I nearly had a heart attack,” she said. “I live in a townhouse, don’t have a yard, a pool, or anything to really water. I had never gotten a yellow bill before.”
The very next month, her bill was once again through the roof – this time about $300. After contacting the Public Works department, Wheeler said she was told that the flood areas were being hit the hardest – but that it would be a one-time headache. Upon telling PWD that the previous month had also been exorbitant, Wheeler says she was told her city meter account would be re-set to reflect normal payments within 30 to 60 days.
However, she says that has not happened, and bills have remained around $125 every month since – adding that it appears that no inspection for potential glitches with the meter has been conducted for quite some time.
“It was all covered in mud – as though nobody has checked this thing in years,” she said. “The last time I checked it several years ago, it looked exactly the same. Nobody is checking it.”
Wheeler says her next-door neighbor has five adults living in her house, who are showering daily and cooking more – yet their water bill is half as high. Her neighbor on the other side has three adults and two kids – yet the water bill is nearly half as well.
“I have the highest water bill [in my 16-townhome unit], with the least amount of people living in it,” she said.
During her attempts to get the matter resolved, she said numerous theories have been suggested by city workers – the most common of which is water leaks, or someone leaving water on too long. But Wheeler insists that’s not the case.
“They told me it would be different – but it isn’t. This has been going on for a while – my bill shouldn’t be more than $50, but it is. And I’ve heard the same excuses coming from everybody.”
And as it turns out, she hasn’t been alone. Fellow resident Zach Hart, among others, have experienced the same gouging prices over the last several months. It began with a $350 bill, before escalating to $1,300 and then $1,600.
Hart received a $900 bill for July, but told our media partners at KHOU that he ceased paying when bills reached over $1,000 and had been trying to get the issue resolved with Public Works.
Unfortunately, neighbors are stumped as to the cause. for the rise. Hart told KHOU one neighbor has also been stuck with an old meter that cannot be repaired; while another theory is that the city’s new “smart meters” are reading incorrectly.
“There is zero chance that I’ve used $4,000 worth of water,” he told KHOU last week.
A Public Works spokesperson said in an email that a representative will soon reach out to Wheeler, while Hart said an inspector came out to his home to check on the issue last week.