Water Leak
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Rick Archer
August 2006

Over the years, there have been some strange stories here at the dance studio, but this one is pretty absurd. 

A few years back, I got a high water bill at my house.  Sure enough, I found a leaking toilet in a part of the house only used by guests.  I got a plumber out and we fixed the problem on the spot.

This boring little story illustrates how the majority of the human race operates: You don't fix the problem until you know it is a problem.

Normally I would write the story myself, but Lisa Viator, a reporter for the local Bellaire newspaper known as "Southwest News" did such a good job, I will use her version.

It would not surprise me if one of these days someone takes the stories of my dance studio and turns them into a sitcom like "Cheers" or "Frazier".  This story would make for a great script, I assure you.


Southwest News
December 13, 2005
Volume 21, No. 29

Potty Leak Problems and a Meter Run Amuck Create Water Bill Mess
Written by Lisa Viator

Rick Archer calls it the story of the $800 potty - a comedy of errors that should never have been.

Mr. Archer, owner of SSQQ Dance Studio at 4803 Bissonnet, recently wrote out a big fat $800 check to the city's water department. The astronomical amount, he says, was due to incompetence on the part of the city.

But being at the mercy of the powers-that-be at city hall, who need only flip a switch and render his business water-free, compelled Archer to grudgingly pay the bill in full.

But he's not closing the book on his skewed aquatic adventures. Archer feels he has plenty more to spout off about.

"It started back in August when a lady came up to inform me that a potty in the Ladies Room was running," Archer explained, referring to a female customer of his dance studio.

"Well, I cleared out the room and went inside to have a look.  One jiggle of the handle and the running water stoppedI figured the problem couldn't be that serious.  The next day I called a carpenter friend of mine to come in. He said he got it fixed."

End of Chapter One. But apparently a carpenter may not be the right person to handle a plumbing problem. Over a three month and a half month period, Archer called out the carpenter another five times to fix the running toilet.

In the meantime, he assumed the problem couldn't be that bad. For one thing, since he didn't exactly visit the Ladies Restroom very often, he was unable to monitor the the problem on a daily basis.  Out of sight, out of mind. Instead he chose another way to monitor the problem - his monthly water bill from the City of Bellaire.

"I figured the leak couldn't be that bad because our average water bill of $21 per month never changed over the three month span of time."  Archer assumed the problem couldn't really be that bad if there was no change in the bill.

Then came the perverse punch line: one day in November Archer received a phone call from a water department employee named Vickey whom he described as "panic stricken." The woman began the conversation by explaining he must have a water leak in his building.

As his mind grasped itself around the problem, Archer wondered if that leaking toilet could be the reason for this phone call.

"Well, what about it?" was Archer's comeback. He thought at the time that his own occasional handle jiggling plus his carpenter's half-dozen fix-it attempts had contained the problem.

That's when the bomb dropped. According to Archer, the employee informed him that whatever the problem was, his business had run up more than $800 in bills.

Now Archer was confused.  He immediately pointed out that he personally paid the water bill himself and that he owed a zero balance. He had the bills and the checks to prove it. Even if there was a leak, how could it be serious enough to generate $800 in bills in the short time since the last bill?

But here's the catch. Apparently the $800 water bill had inadvertently been charged to his next-door neighbor, Sweetwater Pool Supply. Now Vickey at the Water Department had Archer's complete attention.

"At first, no one could understand what the problem was," Archer said.

"Sweetwater Pool Company had just recently moved in. Therefore they had no idea what their water bill should be. They were stunned to find their first bill hovering around $200. Their next bill was just as high. They paid it again, but scratched their heads in the process. Finally they decided this bill was way out of proportion to their water use so they called the Water Department."

"Some wizard told them they must have a toilet leak. So they monitored every device carefully for a month. After a third bill came in at the same amount, they said enough was enough and called the water department to inquire again why their bill was so high. That is when the water department decided they needed to take a closer look."

"They sent a man out to investigate. He discovered that the SSQQ water meter and the Pool Supply water meter had been switched. SSQQ had been getting the Pool Supply's bill for the past several months and vice versa."

"Now that I knew what the real story was, the moment Vickey got off the phone, I got a real plumber into the studio and replaced the handle for $160," Archer said.  ($800 + $160 = $1,000.  Close enough).

The water department demanded that Archer pay the entire four-month bill of $800. Archer explained that this didn't seem fair. He immediately offered to pay the initial $200 water bill from August, but didn't see why he was accountable for the remaining $600.

"If they had told me in the first month, I'd have paid the $200, then acted immediately on the information and get a plumber out," Archer said. "I am not trying to shirk responsibility. I just want them to do their job."

He paused. "I don't feel like I should be asked to pay for three months of their incompetence."

But the Water Department didn't see it that way. Their position was pay up or have the water turned off. No business can run if the water doesn't, so Archer paid the bill in full.

"What power do I have?" he said. "And now they have audited my water bill for the past two years and decided I've been underbilled for that period as well. Now I am concerned they expect me to be responsible for that problem too."

"I told them it was their fault they hooked me up incorrectly in the first place. They righteously say if I used it, I pay for it, but they won't accept their own responsibility in the problem."

The City of Bellaire provides the sequel to Archer's story. According to city finance director Louise Richman, there was an error made by the Department of Public Works when the meter was installed back in May.

"Evidently, the pool meter and the dance studio meter had one digit different in their serial numbers," Richman explained. "Sometimes errors do happen. When you're reading those meters in the ground, sometimes the visibility is not that great."

Richman says that regardless of a bill mix-up, Archer did in fact use the water that he was billed for.  In regards to auditing his bill for the past 18 months, Richman added that is standard operating procedure when a customer calls to challenge a billing.

"When we research a bill, we go back and look at the history for that place of business," she said. "What we noticed was there was a period of time that he was being billed for zero usage which resulted in a flat fee $20.91 invoice."

When asked about this statement, Archer contended that he doesn't look at the details on his bill. He simply pays the numbers notated behind the dollar sign and gets it over with as fast as possible.

The city has issued Archer a credit for $137.89 and, according to the average usage for his business, his future bills will likely be in the neighborhood of $55.

Richman says the Moral of the story is this: pay attention to the details on your bill so if there is a mistake, you can keep your head above water.



There are errors of commission and there are errors of omission.  This story illustrates a new type error: Errors you make just by being alive.

I paid my water bill for the exact amount requested each month.  It was the same amount it had been for several years.
I sent my carpenter to fix the leak problem EVERY TIME I was told about it.
I did not switch the water meters.

Nevertheless, this whole problem became my fault.

Ms. Richman's statement to Southwest News closely paralleled what I was told over the phone. 

So what if the installation man made a one-digit mistake?  Why should the City of Bellaire be held accountable for any mistake if it is just a little error?  Instead it became my responsibility to clear up the whole mess. 

According to Ms. Richman, this whole thing was my fault because I was too stupid to pay proper attention to the bill. 

To my readers, answer this question: how many of you look at one thing besides the AMOUNT in a normal water bill?  

Ms. Richman is totally mistaken.  The real moral of the story is: You can't fight City Hall.

The other lesson would be: Don't call a carpenter to do a plumber's job.

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