DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — A retired librarian got quite the surprise when she opened a recent monthly water bill from the city of Delray Beach's utilities department. It said she owed more than $1,200 for the use of 279,000 gallons of water -- enough to fill 16 home swimming pools.
"I almost fainted," the homeowner Betsy Tyson told Contact 5. "I said, 'That must just be a simple clerical error.' Little did I know that it would lead to three months of headaches."
According to the bill, 279,000 gallons of water flowed through Tyson's meter in just 28 days at her three-bedroom, two-bathroom home. Her utility bill for totaled $1,240.48 for water usage between May 12 to June 9.
"I'm very cautious about water usage," the nearly lifelong resident of Delray Beach said. "I drink bottled water. I buy bagged ice. I don't have a swimming pool. I don't have a hot tub. I don't have a pond. It's ridiculous to think that I could use 279,000 of water in a month."
Her water bill for the following month dropped back to about $50.
For weeks, the city wouldn't budge after testing her meter and finding it met standards.
Emails and a letter she shared with Contact 5 show the city demanded payment and refused to reduce the bill.
The city's finance director wrote in a letter:
"The second-meter test confirmed the accuracy of your water meter. Therefore, it is the city's position that 279,000 gallons of water actually flowed through your water meter and the charges indicated on your June 15, 2021, bill are valid and owed."
"They did not care, and as somebody who's lived here for almost her entire life, that really hurt me," Tyson said.
Contact 5 placed a call with Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia to request an interview about Tyson's bill. Hours later, the city's finance director emailed Tyson to say the city manager approved a credit to Tyson's account.
"Nobody should have to spend any money on something they don't owe, ever," Tyson said.
New City Manager Terrence Moore told Contact 5 that it's still not clear what happened with Tyson's meter.
"It's really inexplicable as to what was the issue regarding the amount of water that was somewhere in the neighborhood of 279,000 gallons," Moore said. "Given the fact that this was an anomaly single case event, it was a fairly easy decision to resolve that particular account."
Contact 5 also asked Moore if there's an issue with utility billing in the city.
"Globally speaking, no," he said. "There are a few anomaly events and we've created an environment in which we can adequately and properly respond to those concerns."
Since last year, Contact 5 has reported on erroneous five-figure water bills, customers not being charged for water for a year and a half and a meter assigned to the wrong address.
Moore, who took over as city manager in August, has now directed city staff to review billing irregularities and analyze bills showing atypical water consumption.
Although now relieved that she's no longer responsible for the more than $1,200 bill, Tyson wants to remind her neighbors to be vigilant.
"My message to everybody in Delray Beach is to check your utility bill," she said.
To report a utility billing concern in Delray Beach, call 561-243-7100 or email UtilitiesCustomerService@mydelraybeach.com.