Since it opened its doors in June, the Crider Health Center has accrued more than $20,000 in water bills.
Jim Ferguson, facilities manager for Crider, said he thinks the high bills were a result of a faulty water meter installed when the building was constructed last summer. The meter has since been replaced.
Ferguson went before the Warrenton Board of Aldermen Tuesday night requesting an adjustment on the bills because he doesn’t believe Crider used even a fraction of the estimated 4 million gallons of water he calculated would have passed through the meter if it had read correctly.
Ferguson told the board he had no idea about the first bill that came in at $5,700 because the building was still being constructed and the contractors just paid it. And when the second bill for $1,200 arrived the next month, he was still in the dark.
“Any bill under $5,000 our accounting department just pays it,” he said.
It wasn’t until the third bill, a whopping $15,000, came in that he suspected something was absolutely wrong with the building’s meter or water system.
“I contacted (Warrenton Public Works Director) Guy Gevers, who was already aware of the bills,” he said. “Guy was already looking into it.”
The building has two water systems, one domestic for inside, everyday use and one for the irrigation system. Ferguson said he had shut off the irrigation system, which wasn’t being used at the time anyway because of the drought conditions, but it didn’t curb the amount of water allegedly flowing through the meter.
“It still showed 4 million gallons,” Ferguson said. “Then it showed 56,000 gallons the next month.”
That month’s bill was about $1,200, he said.
Ferguson had the meter checked out and was told it was working properly. He had it replaced anyway. He thinks that may have solved the problem, but won’t know until he receives the next bill.
“I felt it (the first meter) wasn’t installed properly,” he said.
But that still leaves the question of if and how the city would adjust the past bills.
Ferguson told the board he wasn’t asking to be reimbursed for the first month’s bill of $5,700 because it had already been paid and he hasn’t received any complaints from the contractor. But Crider did pay the second bill and still has more than $17,000 in outstanding bills. And to top it off, Crider’s water was scheduled to be shut off. Ferguson asked the board to credit Crider the $1,200 and adjust the latter two bills.
Although no evidence was found on the city’s part that Crider had used that much water, board members were perplexed as to what would be a fair resolution.
“Staff has spent a lot of hours on this,” said Terri Thorn, director of city operations/finance. “One resolution was to look at another entity of similar size and use to come up with an estimated bill. The school soccer field might be used for the irrigation side, but there’s no way to go back and see what the usage was. The truth is, you aren’t going to find an answer. You’re not going to be able to get accurate numbers.”
In the meantime, city officials assured Ferguson that water at Crider would not be shut off and they would waive the $17,000 and give him a $1,200 credit until they could estimate the last two months’ bills and adjust them accordingly.
Alderman John Cornell said the city would keep the first payment of $5,700.
“It’s water under the bridge,” he said.