Mad As Hell: $3,000 Water Bills!?!?!? - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Mad As Hell: $3,000 Water Bills!?!?!?

Atlanta (CNN) -- Imagine paying as much for water as you do for your mortgage.

Residents throughout Atlanta are outraged by hundreds even thousands of dollars in monthly spikes in their water bills and have questioned the legitimacy of the charges for years. Now, they're demanding answers.

"I thought we were sinking in a hole of water," said Debbi Scarborough. "It scared me to death. I thought we had a major leak when I got the bill."

Over two months last summer, her family's monthly water bill, shot up to $1,805 In July and then $1,084 in August, leaving a balance due of more than $3,000. She said in the past her bill has averaged $200 to $250.

"I'm not paying a $3,000 bill. And for those three months, we were pretty much out of town most of the time and there's no leaks," she said, showing CNN a copy of her plumber's report.

The city installed a device on her meter to track daily usage. In the meantime, Scarborough's bill remains unpaid while she disputes the charges.

She is not alone.

While similar complaints about huge water bill spikes have popped up in Cleveland, Ohio; Charlotte, North Carolina; Tampa, Florida; and Brockton, Massachusetts; it appears that the issue has lasted the longest in Atlanta.

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It's led to a class-action lawsuit, countless meetings with city officials and continuing complaints from fed-up residents.

Thousands of residents who have seen unusual spikes have appealed their high water bills. Just last year, the city issued credits totaling $466,368 to customers.

Atlanta, with more than 500,000 residents, says it already has the highest water rates of any major city in the United States, due in part to federal consent decrees to overhaul the city's water supply infrastructure.

Many of the problems arose after the installation of new, automated water meters, which began nearly five years ago, and involved contracts for meter installations, the electronic meters and software equipment.

The automated meter-reading technology eliminates the need for city workers to manually check every meter. Instead, they retrieve the data by driving by each property. The meter electronically transmits data showing the amount of water used.

From the beginning, there were problems.

In 2007, city auditors found they were "unable to verify electronic meter readings" because of "meter read errors, equipment failures or human errors."

Specifically, the audit said "about 9% of the meters could not be read due to broken or malfunctioning equipment."

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