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Delray Beach mayor concerned after homeowner receives $43,000 water bill

Staff manually reviewing more than 20,000 bills
Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Contact 5 investigator Michael Buczyner
Posted at 12:06 PM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 17:55:33-04

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Four bills, three customers and more than $100,000 in charges for water. As billing errors keep adding up, Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia told Contact 5 that she wants to know how and why it keeps happening.

"This is one of those that, obviously, makes no sense at all," Petrolia said after Contact 5 showed her a homeowner's $43,000 water bill. "This is obviously an issue and incorrect. "I've got concerns, just like those that are receiving these bills."

The latest big bill sent to a homeowner is for just 14 days of service. The homeowner did not want to be identified for the story.

Contact 5 sat down with Petrolia to ask her about the unexplained and inflated bill -- and others like it -- and concerns some residents said they have trusting their water bills.

"That is a concern," she said. "You lose confidence when bills like these end up in circulation and unless there's an absolute reason that can be justified for why a bill like this would show up, I understand the lack of confidence."

Contact 5 recently reported about three other five-figure water bills for reclaimed water that customers claim they never used.

Delray Beach Water Tower
The Florida Department of Health is investigating Delray Beach for a reclaimed water system issue.

The city blamed those errors on new water meters and factory settings and said it would audit its billing process.

Maura Hopkins recently spoke with Contact 5 after she received a $25,000 water bill.

"I was completely shocked when I opened it. I thought, 'This has got to be a mistake,'" she said. "I wouldn't pay anything unless you really thoroughly look at your bill and investigate the charges."

Petrolia said the city's interim city manager was unable to tell her how the latest five-figure water bill occurred. A city spokesperson didn't tell Contact 5 either.

The spokesperson sent this statement:

"As I mentioned last week, the city is closely reviewing the work done by the utilities billing department including examining the software and hardware used, providing more training to staff, reaching out to vendors to develop greater controls in the process, and a thorough review/audit of the process. Although several of these elements are already underway, the bulk of this work cannot be completed in a week's time, the city needs adequate time to identify concerns and opportunities for improvement. As we previously discussed, staff is manually reviewing more than 20,000 bills. In spite of this increased level of review, errors can still occur, especially when the volume of the work is taken into consideration. If a customer receives a bill with a discrepancy, their best course of action is to call the utility billing customer service line in order to have the issue corrected."

"We are currently going to be doing an investigation," Petrolia added. "We're going to have to have an audit done of our water department billing and, also, it's going to have to include looking at the meters and finding out what's going on, because this is not the first time I've seen a bill like this."

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