After one Yelm resident’s Facebook post about a higher than usual August water bill took off online with the sentiment being shared by several others, the city’s Public Works and Customer Service departments went to work on Thursday, Sept. 3, to figure out if people were being overbilled for services.
“We did nothing different this past month in regards to our water consumption. Literally nothing,” Brooke Hawkins wrote on a Yelm community Facebook group. “It has been running the same amount over the course of the last two to three months. I’m just curious as to why all of a sudden my water bill doubled?”
Dozens of people took to the comment section underneath Hawkins’s post to voice a similar frustration.
“My bill is usually $150. I got a bill for $479.09. This is insane,” one person wrote.
“My water bill has never in the last 10 years I’ve lived in Yelm been over $160. It was $411 this month,” another person wrote.
But after an internal review examining about 50 meters and properties for leaks, and looking at the accuracy of the billing software Thursday, city staff say they didn’t find anything unusual and that the high water bills reported are likely tied to high water consumption.
“This is very typical of this time of the year to see an increase on bills, specifically people using more water and getting a higher bill,” Public Works Director Cody Colt said. “Everyone we’ve actually talked to, they’ve been amicable after we’ve been over there.”
High water consumption is often tied to the hotter months, specifically July and August, in the Puget Sound area. It’s not uncommon for people to receive a larger bill in the summer, question the high price, give the city a call and come to find that it’s because of their irrigation system or a similar situation, Colt said.
This latest billing cycle took place between July 20 to Aug. 20. Colt said bill totals when compared with those of last year around this time are a little higher, but he chalks that up to people being at home more.
“It’s similar to what we’ve seen in year’s past,” he said.
In a Facebook post, the city suggested customers take shorter showers, limit water in sprinkler and irrigation systems, and check for leaks and running toilets. People should also remember that filling pools and washing cars can use a lot of water, the city says.
Colt added that if a Yelm customer feels they might have a leak or their meter may be misreporting, they should definitely reach out to the city.
A typical family residential home pays about $161 per month for all water related utilities, which includes stormwater and wastewater rates, according to information from the city.
The latest rate increase for either water or sewer rates went into effect in 2018. The council was briefly considering a temporary cut to water rates for struggling customers following the COVID-19 shutdown, but the then-acting public works director advised against doing so.
The proposal faded without further interest from the council.
Yelm resident Kelsey Moon says the city is trying to shift the blame of its dishonest reporting from themselves over to the consumers.
“The fact that we pay $124 before we turn on the faucet is despicable,” she said. “Everyone is just sick of it and the runaround the city is giving everyone.”
Moon, 27, is neighbors with Hawkins. She was a commenter on Hawkins’s post about the water bill, having also received an inflated water bill.
Her bill usually hovers around $120, rarely going over $160, she told the NVN. This last month though, she said she paid $287 for water.
“It shook me to my core because we’re a military family and my husband was gone for all the month of August,” Moon said. “Our water habits didn't change a bit. If anything, we’re using less water.”
Moon and Hawkins have since created a public Facebook group called “City of Yelm EXCESSIVE WATER BILLS” to document the high number of bills and share related struggles. The neighbors say they’re considering filing some form of legal action against the city for its high billing.
When asked what law they believed the city was breaking or what legal basis they planned on basing their case around, Moon said she was unsure. They’re currently in discussion with a lawyer and have encouraged residents to file a complaint with the state attorney general’s office.
“We just feel like they are not honestly charging the cost of what it truly is to pump the water from wherever they are getting it to the city,” Moon said.