Water bills making people boiling mad

August 3, 2009 "When I opened it up 'I was like oh, no way.' This is not happening."

Lisa Costello is talking about her water bill from the City of Philadelphia. It's normally about $60 to $70 a month but her most recent bill?

"This is saying $527.77," she said. "I'm shocked because I pay my bill. I might walk around with $10 in my pocket but I make sure my bills are paid every month."

Think that's bad? Talk to the Hunter family about the water bill they just got!

"And it was $2454.25 and I almost fell off my bed," said Lisa Hunter.

"We do not forgive any debt that is owed to the city," said Keith Richardson of the Philadelphia Department of Revenue.

Philadelphia's Revenue Commissioner tells Action News the city water department starting using a new billing system.

Now, water bills show the amount due from your current usage and your previous delinquencies. And the city says those past due amounts should now be paid immediately even though some are decades old, going as far back as 1989!

Consumers' options are to pay in full, make payment arrangement, or re-enroll in an assistance program in 30 days.

"If they don't they will be in our shut-off process."

"I mean this is ridiculous. I understand the city's out of money but they're not coming after me for their money," said Costello.

But the Revenue Commissioner says this has nothing to do with the current state of the city's budget and the money paid won't go to the general fund but instead to water bureau operations. He also points the finger at previous administrations for letting consumers slide so long without paying old bills.

"Currently the entire delinquency for the water revenue bureau is $167 million."

And the city says a good chunk of that money is owed by the tens of thousands of people who once had their delinquencies temporarily suspended by being in the Water Revenue Assistance Program, better known as WRAP.

Both the Costello's and the Hunter's were once enrolled but they say they paid their balance in full and left the program years ago.

"My bill was completely paid off. I had nothing that's why I'm not understanding any of it," said Lisa Hunter.

Many other consumers may soon be saying the same thing. The first cycle of the city's new billing system just went out in June. So even the city admits many more consumers are bound to experience major sticker shock.

We have asked the City's Revenue Department to produce documents proving the Costello's and the Hunter's do indeed owe such large balances for having supposedly been in the WRAP program for so many years. We'll keep you updated.

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