Water? That'll be $30K, please

A month after hearing about a man who received a water bill for more than $5,400 from Glendale Water & Power, Phyllis Marks got her own piece of puzzling utility statement, this one for $31,585.20.

“That was almost how much I paid for this house 40 years ago,” the northwest Glendale resident said.

The charge was for more than 6.8 million gallons of water and 18,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, according to the bill.

That was far more than the 1.5 million gallons of water that were charged to Chevy Chase Canyon resident Escott Norton, who brought his case to City Council and eventually earned a recision of his bill.

Marks was also surprised to see it labeled as a “closing bill,” but utility officials reassured her that it was the result of a calculation error, she said.

Although her bill was the second unreasonably high bill to confuse utility officials this year, it was caused by completely different circumstances, and Glendale Water & Power has acted quickly to void the erroneous charge, said Ned Bassin, assistant general manager of customer and support services.

“An error was made which generated a bill which should never have been generated because she was not closing her account,” Bassin said.

New Glendale Water & Power employees who were being trained made a mistake in amending Marks’ account information after she requested to change the name on her bill, he said.

That caused the error and an unusual set of calculations that produced the total, he said.

Still, Marks questioned how a bill with such a large price tag, more than 66 times larger than her previous bill of $474.18, could have been sent out in the first place, she said.

“Somebody should have caught it,” she said. “There should have been a red flag.”

The utility has alert systems that do notice unusually high bills, but Marks’ bill apparently passed through those systems, Bassin said.

“It automatically kicks out any bill that appears to be high, and then that bill is reviewed by a customer service representative,” he said. “With this one, what happened is it didn’t get caught, so the bill got released.”

The system’s failure to detect the abnormally high bill could have been because it was somehow labeled as a closing bill, Bassin said.

The utility is investigating its systems in an attempt to assure that any future error will not fall through the cracks and go out to customers, he said.

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