Water customer left high and dry

Published 10:03 pm Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lamar Avenue resident Queen Jackson sits on the porch of her home Thursday afternoon. With her water turned off for nearly one year, Jackson has turned to using bottled water and showers at the Selma-Dallas County YMCA. -- Desiree Taylor

It’s been nearly a year since Selma resident Queen Jackson’s water was abruptly shut off due to lack of payment for a more than $2,000 water bill last June. Previous statements from officials insisting possible leakage in her home as a cause for the bill have recently been proved to not hold water.

Last month, Jackson had a pressure test performed by American Leak Detection at her home on Lamar Avenue to see if there were leaks. The company representative, who used nitrogen to pressurize lines with Jackson’s water meter off, observed no loss.

After going before the Selma Water Works company board on several occasions throughout the year to resolve her water issue, and bathing with water from water bottles and showers at the Selma-Dallas County YMCA, Jackson, who is on disability, said enough is enough.

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“The water company should have made it right, but they didn’t,” Jackson said. “My Medicaid and Medicare benefits have been exhausted and I burned myself the other day trying to boil water to bathe. I feel betrayed and like I’ve been done wrong.”

Bill statements show that for the past two years, Jackson’s water bills have totaled less than $60 each month, and when she traveled out of town to bury a relative in May last year, her last bill of $45 skyrocketed to $2,073.45. Though Jackson continues to make small payments toward her bill, she and neighborhood residents still believe the bill is ridiculously high.

“People around here (Lamar Avenue) have said they have unusually high water bills but not in the amount of $2,000,” said Old Town homeowner Pam West. “I had a leak in my house and it was more than $500 with four people living there and, to my knowledge, it’s only Queen living in her house.

“I don’t know if someone is reading the meter incorrectly, but this is just ludicrous. Something is wrong.”

Chairman of the board, the Rev. Lee Goodwin, said due to prairie soil in the area, unusually high water bills are not uncommon. Goodwin also said because of a bond covenant, the water company cannot allow a person’s account to remain delinquent for more than 60 days, and therefore it cannot give away free water.

“In the last year I’d say we had about two to three complaints about a $2,000 or more water bill,” Goodwin said. “We have just as many cases with individuals having less than $2,000 bills. In most cases, those are individuals who are on fixed income and are more likely to live in older homes. Jackson was gone from her house for six months and it’s very possible to run up a $2,000 water bill in that amount of time.”

According to information obtained from the water company, a gallon of water costs less than 1.67 cents through the water system.

The company can charge a minimum bill of $23.96, which would equal 3,750 gallons of water. If those figures stand true, to accumulate a $2,003.99 water bill, a person would have had to use 366,000 gallons of water.

Because a water bill comprises both water and sewage, no adjustments can be made on water alone but can with sewage. Goodwin insists the water board works with their customers to make payment arrangements.

“The only thing we can do is give an abatement, or write off on or decrease part of sewage coverage,” Goodwin said. “Once water goes through the meter though, it’s the customer’s responsibility to pay for it.”

Despite the report from American Leak Protection, Goodwin said from the water company’s perspective, nothing can be done at this time for Jackson.

“We had no time to investigate the leak and no plumber’s report,” Goodwin said. “We’ve sent people out and didn’t find any leaks of our own. It’s been a year’s time and she could’ve fixed any leaks by now.”

With no water to moisten her plants or garden vegetables, Jackson said she is tired.

“I’m tired of my water being off,” Jackson said. “This is an injustice.”