THOUSAND DOLLAR POTTY LEAK
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.
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
But he's not closing the book on his skewed aquatic
adventures. Archer feels he has plenty more to spout off
"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
"Well, I cleared out the room and went
inside to have a look. One jiggle
of the handle and the
running water stopped. I
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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.
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
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
"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
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
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.
RICK'S POINT OF VIEW
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
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