Petal adjusts more than $20K in water/sewer bills so far this year

By HASKEL BURNS,

Petal Mayor Hal Marx and members of the Petal Board of Aldermen have worked diligently this year to assist Friendly City residents who have received higher than usual water/sewer bills because of leaks, as identified by the $20,854.38 that has so far been adjusted to residential and business bills in 2018.

According to records from Petal City Hall, those adjustments were done monthly in the following manner: $2,811.26 in January, $7,620.19 in February, $2,673.40 in March, $151 in April, $449.46 in May, $904.80 in June, $1,084.40 in July, $751 in August, none in September and $4,408.87 in October. And while that $20,854 in adjustments may not seem like much, given the average city-wide water service billing of $377,380 per month – or approximately $4.5 million per year – it can be a huge help for a homeowner or business owner who suddenly is faced with an unusually high bill.

“We give every homeowner or business owner one adjustment per lifetime on their water bill, if they show they had a leak,” Marx said. “State law allows us to forgive a water bill if the board of aldermen finds that the customer did not get use from the water.

“We are not required to give any adjustments; we do so as a courtesy and service to our citizens. Many cities and towns do not.”

The amount forgiven depends on the severity of the leak; for example, a large leak may result in a bill for several thousand dollars, as in the case of a property on Leeville Road that was adjusted in February in the amount of $4,341.62 and sales tax of $303.91. Smaller leaks can lead to less drastic bill increases, sometimes in the $20 or $30 range.

“We try and convince people to save their one adjustment to when their bill was significantly higher than normal, but some wish to use it when they will only be saving $20 or $30,” Marx said. “That means that if they have another leak in the future and it increases their bill by more than that, we won’t be able to forgive it. You (only) get one adjustment.”

Marx said the number of adjustments varies from month to month, with aldermen sometimes receiving a number of requests in one month and none in another. While the city doesn’t keep track of the total amount forgiven from year to year, Marx said most leaks are caused by bad pipes in homeowners’ yards or houses.

“Some leaks are just dripping faucets or running toilets – they can run your water bill up considerable over a month’s time,” he said. “Sooner or later, everyone will have some kind of leak. It just depends on how old your house is.

“We see more in the winter months due to frozen pipes.”

Alan Howe, director of Hattiesburg’s Water and Sewer Department, said any time his office is notified of an inflated water bill because of a leak, a team is sent out to determine whether the issue is on the resident’s side of the meter. If so, the homeowner is notified of that and is allowed to bring in documentation to begin the adjustment process for the water bill.

The department then takes an average of readings from the following two months to determine whether the water meter is back to normal levels, before working on a credit for the bill.

“While this is a somewhat lengthy process and doesn’t immediately credit the inflated bill payment, it does help us make sure that the problem is addressed on the front end while supporting the infrastructure needs of our customers,” Howe said. “Understanding the financial hardship this can sometimes be, we work with each resident on a case-by-case basis to determine how we can best help resolve their water bill concern.”