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A $4,000 water bill arrived in the mail. She's been fighting Richmond for months: 'It makes no sense'

Posted at 5:20 PM, Mar 13, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- For more than a year, Bree Verrill has gone back and forth with the City of Richmond over her water bill.

"We’ve literally been gobsmacked. Like it makes no sense at all," Verrill told CBS 6 reporter Tyler Layne. "It said we used 76,000 gallons of water, which is obviously wrong. That’s enough to fill five or six backyard pools."

The issue arose in December 2021, when Verrill and her roommates received a $1,400 water bill from the Richmond Department of Public Utilities.

Bree Verrill Richmond Water Bill Tyler Layne
Bree Verrill is concerned about Richmond DPU estimating water bills.

They sensed something was not right, so they called DPU to question the amount. 

After DPU investigated, Verrill said the department stopped reading the home's water meter and began to estimate water usage at the Richmond house. 

Then in May 2022, Verrill and her roommates were hit with a $4,000 bill.

“Why are you estimating over and over and over again and then out of nowhere, estimate $4,000?" Verrill said. "Something needs to be done."

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Bree Verrill

When neither her landlord nor a plumber could find a leak or anything wrong that would lead to such a high water bill, Verrill questioned DPU again. 

More than a year later, the billing issue has not been resolved, she said. 

Her concern grew after she saw a recent CBS 6 report on an audit that showed DPU estimated more than 130,000 bills in 2022. About 10,000 of those bills were estimated for half the year, and nearly 4,000 bills were estimated for all 12 months of the year.

The Richmond City Auditor’s Office reported that a large volume of estimated bills "negatively impacts the public's accurate and timely billings as customers may be charged large amounts after multiple months of estimated bills."

“I mean, after reading your article, the fact that that's happening with thousands of bills. I can't imagine, " Verrill said. "There's probably somebody else out there dealing with the same thing.”

The city department has admitted it's understaffed (a 26% vacancy rate) and that has resulted in a backlog of estimate billings. A DPU spokesperson said they're still working to figure out how significant the backlog is and how long it could take the department to clear.

When they get caught up, DPU said it would credit overcharged customers and raise bills on the undercharged ones.

“All we want is for people to be treated fairly, so that the goods and services are transmitted appropriately, and they just haven't been." Verrill said. "We’ve been as understanding as we can at this point, but now, I mean, we're just angry, because this should have never happened. And this should have been resolved by now. It's very frustrating."

DPU told CBS 6 it was looking into Verrill’s customer account.

The Richmond Audit Committee will discuss the findings of the DPU audit during a meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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