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Leaky toilet runs up a $2,000 water bill

Published: Thursday, April 10, 2014 2:43 p.m. CST

By Vinde Wells

Editor

A plea for relief for an almost $2,000 water bill prompted a lively discussion at Tuesday’s Oregon City Council meeting.

The council tabled making a decision until April 22 while they further study what action to take.

Oregon resident Rick Ryland asked the council to reduce or forgive the bills sent to his neighbor Carol Long, 84, after a toilet malfunctioned and used 188,000 gallons of water in about two months time.

Ryland said Long lives in an average-sized house, and normally her water bill is $41.10 per month.

However, that all changed when Long received two bills totaling a whopping $1,955.14.

Long is trying to sell her house to move into a nursing home, Ryland said, and the problem began when her realtor and nephew, Mike Long, got a call from City Clerk Charlene Ruthe who told him the water bill was unusually high.

A subsequent check of the house revealed that the flapper stuck open on the toilet in the basement, causing it to run continually.

When the bill arrived a week to 10 days later, the total due was approximately $1,500.

Soon after, Long went out of town, first visiting a daughter and then attending her son’s funeral, Ryland said. 

Then the April bill arrived and Long found out she owed more than $400 in addition to the March bill.

Ryland said Long simply didn’t hear the toilet running because it is in the basement.

His solution was simple — “Charge her $100 per month and forget the rest,” he said.

However, Water & Sewer Commissioner Patrick Wiesner said the city’s policy has been to not make adjustments for leaks that aren’t the city’s fault.

“I’m sympathetic,” he said. “But the service was rendered. We have to keep in mind it was the customer’s equipment that failed, not the city’s.”

Wiesner said Long’s service will not be shut off because of the bill. He said an arrangement can be made for Long to pay the bill off gradually or pay it all from the proceeds when the home is sold.

Water Department employee Jeff Pennington said adjusting Long’s bill could set a precedent.

He said leaks are often detected when the water meters are read once a month.

Of the 1648 meters in the city, 71 showed leaks in the last month, he said.

“If you give a credit now, everyone who has ever had a leak will want one [a credit],” he said.

He said Long could have shut the water off inside her home or asked the city to shut it off outside while she was out of town.

Commissioner Tom Izer suggested asking Long to pay half of the bill.

Mayor Tom Stone said Long should continue to pay her normal monthly amount until the council makes a decision.

He asked City Attorney Paul Chadwick to find out what would be involved in putting a lien on the property. The lien could then be paid off after the house is sold, he said.

“If we put a lien on the property she won’t have to worry about paying the bill,” Stone said.

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