The Manassas Journal Messenger reports that a local Prince William County couple have recently received a sewer bill for $1,760.31. However, the bill is not for a single month of service but rather a billing oversight error whereby the County has neglected to charge the couple for the past 4 years! Yikes!

31 thoughts on “$1760.31 – PWC Sewer Bill

  1. Censored bybvbl

    I saw that article yesterday and wondered how they could tell whether the sewer bill was included. Is the bill broken down into two charges? I wouldn’t know because I’ve been on well/septic for twenty-plus years. I think they should be responsible for paying it; but ,at this late date, they should be given a chance of paying in installments. That’s a rather large chunk of money to come up with all at once.

  2. Censored bybvbl

    Additionally, if she has money to hire an attorney to fight the bill, why not pay it?

  3. Chris

    Censored,
    I agree with both comments. I really think the county has an obligation to work with this couple. PWCSA should be working with this couple to come up with a reasonable payment arrangement. The used the services and they should have to pay for them the sewer portion of the water bill is often more than the actual water fees. Even though it was the county’s error the couple does need to pay the bill.

    The Sewer portion of the bill is listed just below the Water portion. Here’s how the amounts on one of my Water Bills and how it looks on the bill.
    WATER
    Consumption $16.80
    Service Charge $3.05
    SEWER
    Consumption $28.20
    Service Charge $5.30

  4. Censored bybvbl

    Chris, if I’ve followed LandRover correctly, their house is assessed at $500,000+ though they bought it for much less. As a homeowner, I expect to pay for a mortgage, taxes, utilities, maintenance, insurance, etc. Those are just standard operating expenses. I’m having a hard time right now feeling sorry for them particularly when the sewer fee would not have been very much each month had it been paid on time – and billed on time. The desire to pay a lawyer rather than pay their bill is a clincher for me.

  5. Chris

    I DO think the PWSA should NOT turn off their water. They have been paying the bills as they were given. I do feel they DO need to pay the bill for $1760.31. However, again it must be a reasonable payment arrangement. This is a large amount to have to absorb all at once. Especially, when you think about the fact it took them 4 years to rack up those charges, but I do not feel they should have four years to pay the bill either. If this is the first home they’ve owned or rented in the county they might not have been aware that there were sewer charges. Now, that”s still not a good excuse to not pay the bill or worse yet TRY to fight it in our court system. The thought of such a case actually going through are court sysem is UFB.

  6. Chris

    Censored,
    You followed LandRover correctly. It is important to note they originally bought the house twelve years ago.

  7. Censored bybvbl

    Chris, that makes it all the worse. They’ve obviously seen how the water/sewer charges were billed in the past. They should have questioned the first bill that appeared without a sewer charge. It’s not like they didn’t have to pay these charges in prior years.

  8. Chris

    Censored
    You are right. Now, I’m wondering have they been billed ANY sewer charges in twelve years. Or did they think the PWSA was playing Santa Claus with their sewer fees? They just need pay the bill, and shut up, PERIOD. imho

  9. Alanna

    Does everyone really look that closely at their bills? Could this be right, I did the math and sewer would come out to $36/month.

    $1760/48 months = $36.67

    I too, am on well/septic but that seems a little overpriced.

  10. Alanna

    Could it have been longer than the 4 years that they didn’t pay to accrue those charges?

  11. Censored bybvbl

    Alanna, your math appears to be right about on target for what Chris posted. (It looks as though my well and septic field have finally paid for themselves.)

    I keep my bills until the next one arrives. If I need to check further than that, I’ll look at my checkbook.

    Maybe Chris can tell what happened to that property in 2004(?) where there was a transfer at $0 listed. Maybe that’s where the problem occured.

  12. Alanna

    Then let me ask this, let’s say the situation goes the other way, and you’ve overpaid a bill. How long can I reasonably expect a refund from the company?

  13. Moon-howler

    I will be the contrarian this morning. If this couple has been paying the bills they were sent, PWSA should have to eat it. Expecting someone to cough up $1700 overnight is pretty unreasonable, especially in this economy. Customers cannot be held responsible for this kind of billing error.

    Would your local grocery store notify you that you had been mischarged and ask you to pay it back? I don’t think the county would ever win if this goes to court.

  14. I’m pretty sure that this couple would be demanding a full refund, plus interest, if they found out they had been overpaying for sewer service for the past four years. If they don’t pay, someone will have to absorb the cost–“someone” being their fellow consumers. They benefitted from the service, and they should pay for it like everyone else. But I do think it’s reasonable for PWC to work with them for a fair payment arrangement, without interest, just to help set things right for the billing screw-up. I admit that I don’t always examine my bills closely enough, but I can’t believe I wouldn’t notice something like that missing over four years.

    It’s also a question of ethics. Let’s say you’re at the grocery store and you notice the clerk forgot to ring up your breakfast cereal. Do you go home, happy with the unexpected discount, or do you point out the error to the clerk?

  15. Chris

    Alanna,
    We pay almost twice for sewer as water on a monthly basis. So it’s about $36-40 a month just for sewer.
    Censored,
    If you look at the names they may have not been married at the time of original purchase. My guess is they recorded a new deed with their marital status or something along those lines. The $0 deeds are common with inter-family deeds.

  16. Moon-howler

    I probably wouldn’t notice I hadn’t been charged for the cereal. What if the roast were $6.99 a pound but you had only been charged $4.99 a pound?

    I don’t think it is worth the county’s while to take them to court. I seriously doubt if they would win as long as the people had been paying the bills they were sent in a timely fashion.

    Her husband paid the water bills. How close do you think he looked? Mine would have written the check and that was the end of it.

    The flip side of this story is that I paid for 2 dvrs when I only have one for over a year. Comcast. Their bills are so confusing I never know what i have and what I dont have. They aren’t going to refund my money. Their mistake. My money. I am out of luck.

  17. Moon-howler

    Chris, it looks like a refi. Oddly enough, I know the former owner. How bizarre.

    Actually the story was not particularly clear. What kinds of bills were the people getting? Was the meter off and they weren’t charged enough all the way around? Or was the sewage charge left off the bill? Makes a big difference.

    Water bills are confusing. As Chris said, the sewage bill is almost twice as much as the water bill. The water is what is metered. The water bills are adjusted in warm weather assuming people water grass and flowers. I couldn’t begin to explain it all. If you have a leak somewhere it is generally PWSA who notifies you.

    I still think PWSA should have to eat it. In the grand scheme of things, $1700 is nothing to them and might mean the difference quality of life for this family. They don’t live in a mansion.

  18. Chris

    I think a fair compromise would be settle for half the bill, and reasonable monthly installments. This couple should not walk away from the entire balance.

    Come on MH, do you they would be so kind to you and say ah, forget about it?

  19. Alanna

    I have overpaid for cellphone service for the last 6 months. I’d like Sprint/Nextel to refund all the money but I am not holding out much hope. They were willing to immediately refund 1 month but I pushed the issue and they have begun an ‘investigation.’ We’ll see.

  20. Lucky Duck

    Sewer bills are based on the water into the household. That’s why if you do extensive watering, like a sprinkler system or you fill a swimming pool, you need to contact the Sewer Authority to lower your sewer bill so you’re not charged for water that came but did not go out through the sewer system. MH is correct, only the water is metered.

    The bills can be confusing and if they have been paying something on their sewer bill, I think the Authority should write off the loss. If they’ve paid what was on the bill, why wouldn’t they assume it was correct? Don’t we all make that same assumption? The option is for each of us, every citizen, to call and ask if our sewer bill is correct every month so we don’t get hit with a big bill years down the road.

  21. Alanna

    Censored is right then my septic system is paying for itself, funny how I don’t see any savings though. Hmm.

    LD,
    It’s a great point, what would happen, if every citizen calls each month to check the accuracy of the bill.

  22. Lucky Duck

    Alanna, call the corporate offices of Sprint/Nextel – 703-433-4000. Ask for the office of the President. You’ll get either the Executive Office Chief Admin Assistant (and they can get things done) or you’ll get a higher level of customer service. Good luck.

  23. Lucky Duck

    I think if the entity (the sewer authority) doesn’t want every customer calling the week they send out the bills, then the assumption should be the bill is correct from the entity side – after all, it is THEIR responsibility to present it correctly since they have all of the equipment to measure usage. Like every business who values customer relations and need community AND political support, do the right thing and write the bill off.

  24. Well, yeah, they could “write off the loss” but there’s no magic in that. Other consumers will end up eating the cost. If Alanna should get a refund, so should the Authority for the money owed by this couple. It works both ways.

  25. Lucky Duck

    No, I respectfully disagree Emma, it does not work both ways. Sprint is a private, for profit corporation and Alanna can track her minutes used, costs etc. However, the sewer authority is a monoply that possesses all of the billing devices. How can any of us measure exactly how much water/sewer we use? We can’t – the Authority holds all of the cards and they send you a monthly or quarterly bill stating you own a certain amount as determined by THEIR equipment or THEIR employees. Can you switch water/sewer authorities if we don’t like the service? No. But Alanna CAN change phone companies if she is dissatified. With that monoply of the Sewer Authority comes extra responsibilities to the consumer.

  26. Censored bybvbl

    Moon-howler, the county has an ombudsman who can handle problems with Comcast. He often can work magic where we mere citizen/consumers fail.

  27. Moon-howler

    Censored, thanks! I will be in touch with you to find out more.

  28. Censored bybvbl

    Moon-howler, I think this is the pertinent info from the County’s website:

    http://www.pwcgov.org/default.aspx?topic=010020001710002184

  29. Lucky, I hear that, but I think, as I posted above, they should pay something, as they did use the utility like everyone else, and the Authority should work with them on a fair payment plan. Where would you stand on this issue if the couple found out they had been overpaying all these years? Wouldn’t you think the couple would be entitled to some kind of refund?

    Anyway, ’nuff said from me. It’s too sunny out to argue, and I have a date with my Wii Fit trainer. Enjoy the day.

  30. Juturna

    On the other hand, if the consumer had overpaid how would they know and how would they prove it. Individuals have the same rights to “policies” held by business.

  31. Moon-howler

    Censored, I guess I have to write a complaint to comcast first. The first time was a phone call. I am embarrassed to admit that they are who brought the 2 dvrs to my attention. That is a very difficult bill to read and understand.

    Emma, it was my understanding that the couple had been paying a monthly bill and that they were just being undercharged. Lucky Duck is correct that PWSA functions differently from a for-profit company such as Comcast or Verizon or Sprint. If I get a bill from the water company, I assume it is correct since that is the only game in town for me, where I live. I don’t have the option of digging my own well and putting in my own septic tank.

    A non profit utility monopoly has an ethical obligation to assess usage correctly and to bill customers accordingly. If they screw up either way, they have to make it right by either absorbing the under-charge or refunding the over-charge. More importantly, the woman was willing to pay at $5 a month. She shouldn’t have to shoulder the entire $1700 in a month or 2. Many people’s budget’s just don’t allow for those kinds of mistakes.

    Most importantly, water and sewage are closely tied to health dept issues. You cannot live in a house without running water and sewage in our area. If I don’t have comcast, then so what. I will be going through serious withdrawal, but that is Mr. Moon-howler’s problem and no one else’s. Necessity vs luxury.

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