Getting stuck with the bill

By: Paige Tebow Email
By: Paige Tebow Email

PONTOTOC COUNTY, Okla. -- A local rural water district is making up for lost time, and it's the customers who are left with the bill.

Some members of Pontotoc County Rural Water District 8 got quite a shock this month when their bills jumped hundreds of dollars.

Rural Water Districts are unique. They're run like cooperatives, meaning the customers set the guidelines.

District 8 has been undercharging customers for years, and now they're trying to collect.

State officials say they can do so legally.

For Ada resident Bill Howells, a man who is used to seeing double digit water bills, his latest statement was hard to swallow.

"I thought it was a mistake, an honest mistake…too many zeroes."

For the past eight years, Bill Howells has paid about $33 a month for water, but in March his bill was $1,300 and Rural Water District 8 officials told him it was no mistake.

"They haven't been running right, estimating bills. You don't write thirteen-hundred for past bills."

The cooperative requires their 1,300 customers to read their own meters, but most of the time they're buried way underground so customers who can't get to them simply pay an average.

The Oklahoma Rural Water Association suggests districts do their own on-site calculations at least once a year, but District 8 officials told Howells they hadn't done that in more than 8 years.

Now they're trying to catch up for lost time.

Pontotoc County Rural Water Officials declined comment, so we asked the association whether Howells and his fellow customers could be forced to pay up. Association attorneys say the district can.

Oklahoma law says companies cannot collect on written contracts five years after the fact, but state officials say most rural water districts do not have agreements with customers concerning meter reading.

According to them, Howells and the dozens of other customers in the same situation could be out of luck.

Pontotoc County Rural Water District 8 is having its monthly board meeting Thursday night at 7:30.

Bill Howells and his neighbors plan to be there.

Water district officials say they'll try to sort the matter out then.


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