in Houston, Texas
Houston man's $2,500 water bill leads to weeks of confusion, bureaucratic wrangling
Tuesday, Nov 09, 2010, 12:06PM CST
By Steve Miller
fire hydrant and water

The spigot that is Morris Wiegman’s water bill started in July with a major leak at a fire hydrant down the block from his southwest Houston home. It continues with a series of contradictory water bills, some offering $1,400 credits, others demanding $2,500. And it’s abetted by public workers who appear to be less than sympathetic.

 

As it stands, Wiegman, 65, who lives alone and is in ailing health, is on the hook for thousands of dollars in city water bills after averaging $38.16 a month since January. At a September meter reading his usage was estimated at 220,000 gallons --- enough to flood six inches of water across a football field -- after averaging 5,000 gallons a month for the past year.

 

"Just to see my usage before and after this hydrant would at least force them to see that I didn't use all this water." Wiegman said. "They just tell me I will have to pay this. I feel like there's not much I can do. Seems like they are backing me into a corner."

 

Lee Turner, who is handling Wiegman’s case for the city’s Public Works and Engineering Department, declined to speak about the case. He referred a reporter to Debra Guerrero, who said she was Turner’s supervisor. She also declined to speak and said she would have Alvin Wright, a public information officer, return a call. Wright never called.

 

Wiegman has been scheduled for an in-person meeting about the bills next week, but the city's response so far doesn't give him much hope. It’s been a merry-go-round of bureaucracy for Wiegman, whose accounting of his tale goes like this:

 

June: As summer began, Wiegman had a private company come to his house and check his 21,000-gallon pool for leaks. A PVC elbow was replaced, but nothing serious was found. Water levels were constant. Wiegman applied to the city for a one-time “leak adjustment credit” that is allowed for an “excusable defect” in a customer’s water line. He later received the credit for $66.94

 

August: A water rupture two doors down from Wiegman resulted in the fire hydrant leak, which ran on for days.

 

Sept. 17: Wiegman received a water bill for $2,566.98 minus the credit. Total due: $2,500.04. That day, he called the water department and was told that his bill would be placed on hold while it was sorted out. He was also told that he had some leaks and needed a plumber. Concerned, Wiegman called Xavier Herrera, a community liaison in Mayor Annise Parker’s office. Herrera sent his complaint on to public works and did not return a follow-up e-mail from Wiegman.

 

Sept. 21: He received a terse letter, reminding him to pay the bill. "This notice is the only reminder you will receive," the letter reads.

 

Sept. 23: A city worker came by Wiegman’s house and noted that his meter was working fine.

 

Oct. 7: Wiegman received a letter from public works stating it had misread his meter during the time that accounted for his $2,500.04 bill. It credited him $3.38 for sewer and claimed his water usage was $12.77 for the period. But the same day, Wiegman received another letter from public works stating that his bill had been adjusted. He now owed $1,229.95. “This adjustment is authorized by the city of Houston Code of Ordinances and is the maximum possible amount that can be removed from your account,” the letter reads. Wiegman spoke to Turner, who reassured him that the situation would be fixed.

 

Oct. 8: Wiegman received a certified letter from public works advising him of a hearing Oct. 19 via phone. “I had asked for a sit-down, but they told me this is the only way they do it,” Wiegman says. The letter is signed by Turner, who writes that Wiegman’s account has been placed on "temporary hold.”

 

Oct. 9: Wiegman had a plumber come out to check for leaks in his water system. Tests confirmed no leak.

 

Oct. 14: Wiegman received another bill for $1,246.86, almost all of it the past due balance. The bill showed a usual amount of water usage, 2,000 gallons for the period.

 

Oct. 19: Wiegman missed his phone hearing due to illness and rescheduled for an in-person meeting Nov. 16

 

Oct. 28: Wiegman wrote to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, each city council member, several state reps, two U.S reps and a few media outlets. In the letter, he outlined his tale of woe. (He heard back from one person, the reporter who penned this story.)

 

"It's hard to believe that no one in government cares about how it treats people," Wiegman said. "There must be other people this happens to and they just take it. But it is just unfair and very unorganized."

 

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.


Photo of flooded street and fire hydrant by Steve Miller.

Comments
tired dog
Thursday, 11/11/2010 - 12:57PM

Good luck Mr. Wiegman, you'll need it with this gang of thieves.

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