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They got the wrong water bill for 12 years. Now they have to pay twice as much.

Anna Johnson, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in News & Features

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Chris and Angela Humphries were confused when they received a notice from the city of Raleigh about a mix-up with their water bill.

Then they got a bill for $120, roughly double the cost they had been paying for years. They asked around their northern Wake County neighborhood and learned that some people had received higher bills without getting a notice at all.

"With the frustration and anger in our neighborhood, it's hard not to get worked up and start yelling at someone about this," Chris Humphries said.

For 12 years, Raleigh mistakenly charged in-town water rates to 635 Wake County residents who should have been paying higher out-of-town rates. Most of those affected live in the Jones Dairy Farm and Willow Deer subdivisions just outside Wake Forest.

Raleigh isn't asking the affected customers for back payments, but some are criticizing how the city handled the situation and are pushing the City Council to put in place what they consider a more-fair rate.

The error cost Raleigh about $1.8 million in lost revenue over the years, said Robert Massengill, the city's public utilities administrator.

"While we are sympathetic to the financial impact of these customers, we have a legal responsibility to correct the error," Massengill said. "As well as a judiciary responsibility to all the other customers who pay the correct rate, especially those who live within the same subdivisions."

Utility customers who live in Raleigh pay the city an average of $52.46 per month for water and sewer service. Those who live outside the city but get water and sewer service from Raleigh pay an average of $99.86 per month.

Raleigh officials realized the error while updating the billing software late last year, Massengill said. He believes the issue began in 2005 when data was transferred from Wake Forest's billing system to Raleigh's system.

"Obviously, (the update) was overdue as we didn't catch it for the last 12 years," he said. "It's unfortunate this mistake happened. One of the biggest mistakes is we did a poor job of communicating when we found out about the mistake."

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