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Kirkwood sewer bills bump up after MSD error

Shona Scott's sewer bill has a $359 adjustment for under-billing.
Shona Scott | provided
Kirkwood resident Shona Scott's sewer bill has a $359 adjustment for under-billing.

Some Kirkwood residents are getting a shock when they open their sewer bills this month. The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District is charging a one-time fee to correct a billing error, jacking up bills several hundred dollars in some cases.

Shonda Scott’s bill jumped up more than $400.

“I was given a little notice from our neighbors,” said Scott, whose neighbors saw increases of $100-$200. “My blood pressure didn’t shoot up as high as it could have possibly been.”

According to MSD spokesperson Lance LeComb, Scott and her neighbors are outliers, with the average customer owing the utility $6.50.

“We’re certainly always very flexible in setting payment plans and we will work with those folks,” said LeComb. “But the bottom line is we did make a mistake, but we are billing for services that were rendered and delivered.”

LeComb said letters warning customers of the fee were sent out last week to 6,500 Kirkwood residents and 800 businesses.

For the past eight months those customers were under-billed due to a conversion error introduced by MSD when the city of Kirkwood put in new water meters. The meters measure water usage in gallons, while MSD measures water usage in one hundred cubic feet.

Because MSD bills are based on water usage, Scott said she is confused that her bill is so much higher than her neighbors.

“Our kids are moving out, we’re kind of empty nesting. And we don’t have a pool, we don’t have an irrigation system,” said Scott. “So I was surprised that ours is $400 higher compared to the $100 and $200 higher that our neighbors are experiencing.”

Credit Joe Shlabotnik | Flickr

According to LeComb, the amount a customer owes to correct what they should have been charged earlier depends on how much water they used last winter.

“Not everybody uses the same amount of water,” said LeComb. “It’s not that everybody’s (bill) got put off by a factor of water.”

A customer’s water usage is measured once a year between December and January, and that usage gets applied for the customer’s yearly rate beginning in July.  LeComb said MSD goes by the amount of water used in the winter because that water is more likely to go down the drain and be processed by the sewer, instead of going into pools and yards.

Scott plans to call MSD and have them double check their math-she doesn’t trust that they adjusted her water usage correctly.

“I don’t even feel confident on their billing errors. To be charged $400, I really would like to talk to someone there and know that this has been correctly identified. Are they correct in their new calculations? That just seems excessive, especially in comparison to the other homes in the area who also have price increases,” Scott said.

Scott is also concerned about her monthly bill going forward, now that MSD has adjusted her water usage rate. Broken down evenly, she was charged $50 more a month for the past 8 months.

“Instead of normally paying $35 monthly rate for our house, is it $50 more a month and now it’s going to be $85? That’s a big increase. I mean we all have to adjust with our budgets, and our family income and our kids,” said Scott.

LeComb said people can figure out how much money they’ll owe next month by comparing this month’s usage charge with last month’s bill — the adjustment is listed separately on the bill. He also said that anyone with questions about the rate of their adjustment should call MSD’s billing center at 1-866-281-5737.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter @cmpcamille.