Woman on the hook for $15,000 utility bill

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)- As many Richmond residents will tell you, fall behind on your gas and water bills by two months - as little as $300 – and the city will cut you off in a hot minute.

So how did one woman’s bill reach more than $15,000?

Dana Bagby moved from Richmond to Henrico County a year ago, leaving the house she rented from her aunt.

So she was stunned when she recently went to get a loan to buy Christmas presents for her young son and grandchildren and was turned down because the city claims she owes for an old gas and water bill.

“It’s 15,170.83 cents,” she said  from her home in eastern Henrico County. “I mean the governor doesn’t pay this kind of bill (for the mansion). What did I heat up? The city of Richmond?”

Even the city admits the bill should never have been allowed to get that big.

But Babgy is still on the hook for it.

“It does not have no dates on the bill,” she said, looking at the bill, “when it started, when it ended. It does not have no meter readings.”

According to the Department of Public Utilities, Tara Bagby’s account on 35th Street began in 2006. It appears the problems started in 2008, after Bagby  got what she thought was an unusually large gas and water bill.

“So I asked them could they send someone out, check to see if there was a leak or anything,”  recalled Bagby, a city bus driver who now drives a school bus for Henrico.

She said two different crews came out and made sure there weren’t any leaks.

But that, apparently is when the monster bill -  the largest residential bill anyone can remember - started growing.

According to DPU spokeswoman Angela Fountain, when a citizen asks for an investigation like that, it triggers a hold on the account until the investigation is wrapped up. That way a customer isn’t disconnected for not paying a bill that is in question. It’s not their fault it city equipment is leaking and the bill is higher than it should be.

The problem was, after the investigations, the hold wasn’t lifted on the account. Bagby’s service was never disconnected as the bill grew.

Department of Public Utilities spokeswoman Angela Fountain said “this fell through the cracks. It certainly did.”

While anyone else would have had their service cut off long before the bill reached a fraction of $15,000, DPU said that doesn’t mean Bagby had an excuse for simply not paying her bills.

Bagby said she paid them,  but doesn’t have any records because a robbery and identity theft led her to shred her records. And, she said, she had no idea she would need them.

She’s had help from City Councilman Marty Jewell, who said he’s stunned the utilities department let a bill spin out of control like that. Jewell’s assistant and the assistant of City Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille have also tried to sort out this situation.

Fountain said DPU will work with Bagby to set-up a payment plan, but Bagby is on the hook for the total. Simply, Fountain said, that residence used that gas and water and didn’t pay for it.

“That’s impossible,” Bagby said. “There’s no way.  $15,000? You don’t pay that kind of bill in 31 years. So in five years, how?”

One resident on that same street with a similar house said they pay a little more than $100 a month, on average, just using the gas to heat in the winter, as Babgy said she does.

Her bill – even if she hadn’t paid a dime in five years - would be two and a half times that.

Dana Bagby is fighting this with all of her might.

“But this right here is bigger than me. “Somebody needs to do something. Somebody needs to  help me.”