Extreme fluctuations in bills, a confusing rate system and alleged meter reading inaccuracies are just a few of the concerns some St. Charles Parish residents say they’ve had this year when dealing with their water bills.
Destrehan resident Natasha Dufresne said her water bills have been randomly spiking higher than the normal $100 or so a month.
“They said we had a leak, so we spent $550 changing three toilets,” she said. “The bill went down to $105 last month but now it’s up to $400 again. I’ve called, but I just don’t have time with my job and their hours to go to the office. I wish something can be done, because this is just crazy.”
Parish President Matthew Jewell chimed in on a recent Facebook post where Dufresne and dozens of other residents were discussing their own water bill issues.
“The amount customers are being billed is accurate when we audited some bills,” Jewell wrote. “If you believe the amount that you’re being charged is incorrect, we are asking you to call Waterworks for them to verify.”
He added that over half of the parish households have smart meters, which send a signal to the computer of meter readers as they are passing in a vehicle.
“This meter doesn’t need to be physically read,” Jewell said. “The other meter is the manual read meter, which waterworks has to physically read. The good thing about the smart meter is that we can dig a lot deeper into usage and identify leaks much easier.”
Mimosa Park resident Cory Savoie, who has been very vocal online about his concerns and research findings on the parish’s water billing structure, addressed the council this summer regarding some of his concerns.
“I know you all have gotten your fair share of phone calls, emails and messages over the past few weeks regarding residents’ water bills,” he told the council. “I know I used more water in April with the stay at home order … no question. What I do have a problem with is the rate structure in conjunction with the increase in the number of days of a bill.”
Savoie explained that there are three different rate tiers for water consumption, meaning that the more water a household uses, the more they are charged for per gallon.
That, he said, coupled with the fact that there are three months a year where residents have 35 days of usage on a bill, seven months with 28 days on a bill and two months with 32 days on a bills leads to large fluctuations in monthly bills.
“This is an issue that I brought up years ago with leadership within Waterworks with no resolution,” Savoie said. “Not all municipalities have a tiered structure that punishes people for using more water. I would also like to request that the parish provide a ‘how to read your bill’ graphic on the website … there is nothing that easily explains how to read a water bill.”
Savoie told the council that while researching he noticed that most other municipalities charge a minimum charge like in St. Charles Parish, but that the minimum charge other places also covers the first couple of thousands of gallons of usage.
In St. Charles, he said, the fee is more of a service charge and the billing starts with the first 1,000 gallons used.
St. Charles Parish officials noted that there are several factors residents should understand, including the fact that neighboring parishes subsidize their water bills with taxes and millages, which significantly decreases the cost of water to the residents, including those in Jefferson Parish. Additionally, parish sewerage charges are based on water consumption usage, so as water usage goes up, so will sewerage charges. Pool owners are eligible to have the sewerage portion of their bill waived if they are re-filling their pool.
St. Charles Parish Director of Communications Samantha de Castro said when residents believe there are discrepancies on their water bill and contact the parish, their usage details will be reviewed.
Officials said if a resident believes they have a leak and provides proof of said leak, a refund up to a certain amount is possible. A new water bill design to provide additional transparency and help residents understand how they are being charged for their water consumption is also being designed.