When Deanna Drapeau responded to a notice that her water meter was broken, she never expected what would come next.
A resident of the Aspen Falls subdivision near Caton Farm and County Line roads, Drapeau said she and numerous neighbors have been hit with astronomical water bills from the City of Joliet, which provides sewer and water service for the area.
“Mine was $1,100,” said Drapeau.
She said the saga began in November, when she received a notice that her water meter was not working correctly. The notice asked homeowners to schedule a time for a City of Joliet worker to come out and repair the meter — which Drapeau did.
“I almost had a mini heart attack because the first bill came right after Christmas,” the mom of four said. A customer service rep from Joliet’s water department explained that the hefty bill was for the 15 months that the water meter was not working properly.
The $1,100 bill was based on the family’s estimated water usage over the 15-month period, Drapeau said.
Other neighbors in the Aspen Falls and Clearwater Springs subdivisions had bills totaling more than $800, according to Drapeau. Some of them have outlined their water woes on a Facebook page dedicated to the subdivisions.
Mom Kellie Gergits said she was told a 25 percent down payment was required to begin a payment plan on her $850 bill.
According to Gergits, her meter was malfunctioning for nearly two years.
“I’m just shocked that it took 20 months for someone to contact me,” she said.
“I honestly thought it was some kind of mistake,” Gergits said of the whopping water bill.
Jon Hall, capital program engineer with the City of Joliet, said he didn’t have specific information on the problems reported by Drapau and her neighbors, but said the situations were “somewhat unusual.”
“You should never see an $800 or $1,100 bill, so something else is going on there,” Hall said. “In this case it was a big shock to people, and we want to avoid that.”
He said the longer a meter is inaccurately measuring water usage, the higher the bill tends to be.
“The key there would be when you get that notice” that your meter is not functioning correctly, “to call us as soon as possible,” Hall said.
He also advised customers to keep a close watch on their bill. If you notice a significant increase or decrease in the amount of your bill, contact the City of Joliet’s customer service department at 815-724-3820, Hall said.
Customers who want to make sure their meter readings are accurate can also learn how to read their own meters.
“If they don’t know how to do that, they can call and we can help them,” Hall noted. “The bottom line is that we’re trying to monitor and get accurate reads.”
The City of Joliet is in the process of installing new meters that can be read remotely to help cut down on labor and ensure accuracy, he said. Of the city’s roughly 46,000 public utility customers, all but about 10,000 have the new meters. The rest should be installed by the end of the year, Hall said.
‘I learned the hard way’
Gergits said she’s slowly paying down the balance of her bill.
“I made a $250 payment right away, and I’ve just been chipping away at it,” she said.
As for Drapeau, she said she hopes to work out a payment plan, but hasn’t heard back from the city’s billing department.
“It’s been 14 days since I [called], and I haven’t heard from anybody,” she said.
“It’s very frustrating,” Drapeau said. “Isn’t that part of their job — to make sure their equipment is working?”
As frustrated as she is, Drapeau said she’s also concerned that other homeowners could find themselves in the same situation.
“I’m worried about all the other people out there who are in the position I was a few months ago and are just paying their bills and not knowing anything is wrong,” she said.
As frustrating as the situation was for the homeowners, Gergits said it taught her to scrutinize her utility bills more closely.
“It opened my eyes,” she said. “I learned the hard way — I’ll start looking closely [at my bills] now.”
Have you experienced similar issues? Let us know in the comments.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Gergits' name. We apologize for the error.