Richmond County water customers outraged after bills skyrocket

RICHMOND COUNTY, N.C. — Residents in Richmond County are outraged over an increase in water bills after the county installed new water meters.

[Document: Water meter replacement program]

One woman, who asked not to be identified, showed Eyewitness News anchor Liz Foster the water bill she received over the weekend. It shows she paid $40.20 last month. This month, she was charged $266.29 -- a 562 percent increase.

"I was shocked. I couldn't believe it," the woman said.

Dozens of people who are frustrated after the county installed new water meters have contacted Chanel 9.

Teresa Freeman said her water bill has tripled from what she used to pay.

"Originally, they told me that the new meters pick up every single drop of water, and that's why it's increased, but again, it's increased every single month. It can't be that," Freeman said.

Richmond County commissioners decided to invest $5 million in automated meter technology about three years ago, according to County Manager Bryan Land.

In an email to Channel 9, Land wrote the automated meters will "improve operating efficiency, have a more consistent billing schedule and also increase safety for our employees by limiting the ingress/egress out of vehicles from manually reading meters."

Land added that the new meters record water usage every hour and are able to detect a leak.

County leaders said the new meters more accurately report a home's water usage, but many aren't buying it.

"Bull. No. There's no way. They're saying I used 12,000 gallons of water in a month," the woman with the $266 bill told Channel 9. She took her bill to the county water department on Monday. She said the department adjusted it to $156 without explaining why. That is still almost four times what she paid last month.

She's worried about her elderly neighbors on a fixed income.

"There are a lot of folks nowadays who can't even afford their medicine and groceries,” she said. “So how are they going to pay an almost $300 water bill?"

County leaders said crews are in the process of installing 7,500 water meters, and the project will be complete within the next month.

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