Huge Water Bill Surprises Pinehurst Couple
Santa Claus delivered a $102,348.36 utility bill to the household of Jerome and Siriporn Phelps. The couple would have preferred coal.
The Pinehurst couple's bill from Moore County Public Utilities shows water usage of 900,466 gallons for the November billing period. Payment due date is Dec. 28.
"I knew the check wasn't going to clear the bank," Phelps joked in a telephone interview. He pays his utility bills by bank draft.
But when Phelps tried to reach the county's public works accounting office about his water bill, the telephone lines were tied up with calls from other customers unhappy with bill problems of a different sort.
That glitch involves a series of billing problems developing after the county utility system underwent a major upgrade involving a changeover from manual meter reading to remote read meters.
Public Works Director Randy Gould estimates that his office staff fielded 300 calls from confused and sometimes irate customers concerned about strange water bills.
Those problems were generated by a coordination lapse between the meter upgrade installation and the software developed to facilitate the meter readings.
Installation of the upgrade began several weeks ago with meters replaced by equipment that can be read by remote control from a motor vehicle driving beside households with utility accounts.
The new system is a big time-saver, because the meter reader no longer must park the vehicle, get out, walk to the building and read the meter up close. Now, the meter reader simply drives by the building, aims the remote reader at the meter and the usage is recorded on a laptop computer in the vehicle.
That system, already in use in Southern Pines and elsewhere, saves money as well as time, and Gould says he is already considering staffing adjustments because the county system will need fewer full-time meter readers. It's likewise supposed to be more accurate, but the customers with mixed-up bills earlier this fall might disagree.
Gould says the problem has been resolved and credited Southern Software of Southern Pines with helping work out the coordination problem. Southern Software is the firm headed by Larry Caddell, chairman of the Moore County Board of Commissioners.
"I think we have corrected all the mistakes," Gould said.
Actually, the bills were not really incorrect, he said, but were instead "just not complete" because of the coordination glitch. Gould said his office just completed the second billing under the new system and everything seems to be running smoothly again.
Remote meter readers have been used in parts of the county utilities' system for a number of years, but not all of the Pinehurst system had been converted.
Moore County Public Utilities has about 12,000 customers. Of that number, about 7,700 are on the Pinehurst system.
As for the $102,348.36 utility bill sent to the Phelps household, that is "a totally different problem," said Peggy Deaks, of the county utilities' accounting staff. The computer printout of the bill was apparently lacking a key coding that would have calculated the correct water usage and the correct amount due. The accidental omission skewed the figures.
By the time The Pilot caught up with Jerry Phelps, he was in a jollier mood and was laughing. He had already cleared up the glitch with Deaks.
"Does this set a record for the highest water bill ever in Moore County?" Phelps asked.
It is, according to Deaks, who has worked in utility billings about 30 years. She cannot remember such a big bill and says neither Moore Regional Hospital nor Pinehurst Resort pays that much for water.
When the bill was straightened out, the total was closer to $39. Phelps' check will clear the bank.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story