High water bills drain residents in Monroe Township, NJ

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Some local homeowners in Monroe Township, Gloucester County, have been getting sticker shock when they open their water bills. (WPVI)

Monroe Township, Gloucester County, citizens tell Action News they are being drained.

After a rate increase this summer, residents in Williamstown, New Jersey, got monthly water bills that are double and triple what they're used to paying. Some bills for one month were $300, $400 - with some even as high as $645.

"It's been hard. It's a real hardship on us," said Matt Petolicchio.

It makes Petolicchio regret his move from neighboring Washington Township. The same amount of water that's $213 in Monroe Township is only $71 there.

"I can't believe that it actually is triple," said Jeff Botbyl.

The Botbyl's and many others also allege they are getting charged for water they didn't use. One bill from this past August totaled $645.40 for 77,000 gallons of water in just that month.

Last year, the Botbyl's were billed for allegedly using 155,000 gallons in July and August.

The bill - a whopping $1,000.

"They told us that it was because we had a pool, because we had a sprinkler system and possibly a toilet leak," said the Botbyl's.

To use 155,000 gallons of water, the Botbyl's could have filled their 29,000-gallon pool more than five times.

"And then we noticed after we got that bill, a week later, there was a guy outside of our house changing out our meters," said Jeff Botbyl.

The Botbyl's believe their meter was defective. They told Action News they had no leak nor did they fill their pool those months.

But their water company insisted a leak was responsible and claimed the Botbyl's refused to have their meter tested.

That water company is the Monroe Municipal Utilities Authority or MMUA.

"Our meters are accurate. They're on target. Everything has been checked out," explained Jerry Moore, Monroe MMUA Executive Director.

That's hard for the consumer to tell because the electronic meters are underground.

"So if I wanted to actually wanted monitor it, throughout the month, to see my usage, I wouldn't be able to see it," said Petolicchio.

Action News asked MMUA to explain the higher than normal usage on so many bills.

"I explain it by the weather conditions. People water their lawns and it doesn't take long to collect up a lot of water," said Moore.

Ralph Manfredi, the MMUA Superintendent, told Action News the Botbyl's and others are "water pigs" and in most cases the usage isn't unusually high. He said people are just now noticing their usage and complaining because of the higher rates.

"We didn't have a rate increase for seven years. I can only tell you we have to have the revenue to support our operation," said Moore when asked why people in Monroe Township are paying triple for water what people play in neighboring townships.

The Monroe MMUA also said it's had to invest in major, expensive projects.

"I think they've gotten greedy, and they didn't manage their funds over the years properly enough," said Williamstown Mayor Dan Teefy.

Monroe Township is investigating. The mayor has asked, among many other things, why in May of 2014 did ratepayers use 68,000,000 gallons of water. But this May they used 102,000,000 gallons.

"Everybody in town got a leak? I don't think so," said Mayor Teefy.

The MMUA has now given the family who got the $645 bill a credit for $473, and has promised to look into every other case Action News sent to the company, about 30 in all.

The MMUA said that's a fraction of its 10,000 customers.

Unlike other utilities, MMUAs are not regulated by the State Public Utilities Commission. The MMUA board members are elected by city council, and oversee the utility's operations. Rate increases are submitted to the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs.

The MMUA released the following statement:

The Monroe Municipal Utilities Authority maintains the public sewer and water service in Monroe Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey. The MMUA provides safe, healthy water services to almost 10,000 ratepayers.

The MMUA responds to each question received from a ratepayer with regard to water bills. The bills are generated as a result of an electronic reading system which records the amount of usage from the homeowner's water meter. After recent questions from the public, the MMUA retained an outside firm to review and check the electronic reading system's accuracy. The review concluded that the Itron system was functioning correctly.

If a ratepayer feels that the reading is not accurate, the MMUA will send a technician to the residence to manually read the amount of usage from the meter.

If the ratepayer feels the water meter has malfunctioned or is incorrect the MMUA will take out the water meter, schedule a time with the ratepayer and test the meter with the resident present to assure the accuracy of the meter. According to Badger Meter, depending on the size of the meters in question, the meters are accurate from 95% to 97.5%. The meters are warranted to meet or exceed extended low flow accuracies in excess of American Water Works Association standards.

If a meter is found to be inaccurate then it will be replaced free of charge and the ratepayer's account will be credited.

If you have any further questions please contact the MMUA Executive Director, Jerry Moore at 856-629-1444.
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