ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County water customers took to Facebook over the weekend to express outrage after looking at their water bills that came in on Friday.
Commentors on a now-deleted post in the What’s Up Richmond County group reported having to pay more than double their usual bill, some even more.
The concern stems from a $5 million project that was approved three years ago to bring the county’s water meters up to date with the current technology.
The county has been installing the new meters over recent months and sent out letters prior to each installation explaining what the meters are and what changes residents might see on their bills. There was also a notification in the county newsletter, according to County Manager Bryan Land.
The new meters will provide the county with more consistent and accurate usage readings that they can compare over time, as well as 24-hour leak detection, he said. The meters will also eliminate the human element that contributes to much of the fluctuation in billing.
“Once the new meters are put in, it’s going to be every 30 days,” Land said.
Public Works Director Jerry Austin said in an email that the new meters can measure water flow rates as low as 0.03 gallons per minute and up to 55 gallons per minute.
“This increased accuracy allows for the detection of leaks that previously went unnoticed and ensures our customers are properly billed for the water that flows through their meter,” Austin said. “Having the ability to proactively detect leaks and notify customers of the leak not only limits the extent of the customers leak, it also helps to conserve water by allowing leaks to be repaired significantly sooner.”
No change has been made in the cost of county water. Austin said that customers who have had their meters updated will be charged for additional days of usage for either the first or second month after installation, depending on when the new meter is put in. After this initial spike in their bill, the payments will level off and be more accurate than in the past.
One of the comments on the original Facebook post claimed that there was a bill of nearly $700 for this past month, the highest reported on the post by more than $400, which was attributed to the installation of an automated meter in later posts by others.
Reached for comment, Steven Patrick, whose mother got the inflated water bill, confirmed that this bill was due to a severe leak, not a new meter. Patrick said his mother uses county water and that she got the letter notifying her that the county would be installing a new meter over a month ago but the meter has not been installed yet.
The new meters have locks on the lids to prevent tampering. Some of those commenting expressed concerns that, because of this, they could no longer read their own meter to check to see if it matches what they are being charged for. Austin said that the new meters actually improve access to usage history because it allows the water department to access an hour-by-hour reading of the meter.
If residents want to cut off their water for any reason, the letter sent by the county says that they will have to use the cut-off valve connected to the service line. If they don’t have a cut-off valve, a plumber can install one, which Austin recommended. The $25 fee to have the water cut off has been waived until July 1, 2018 to allow customers time to install a cut-off valve, according to Austin.
The project will transfer 7,500 residences, as well as 100 commercial and industrial customers, over to the new meters. The 700 remaining residences will be updated within the next two weeks, according to Land. The commercial and industrial portion of the project will begin in January or February.
For more information, call the Richmond County Water Department at 910-997-8202.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]