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Richmond man disputes deceased mom’s astronomical water bill

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- John Bartnik is flooding the city with questions over his mom's $1,000 water bill.

"I said 'what the hell did my mom go buy a whale?'" John Bartnik said. "So, I came over here, I looked in in the basement -- no whale."

Frustrated, he turned to CBS 6 for help.

Bartnik says back in February his mom had to be admitted to the hospital for several weeks.

While checking on her South Richmond home, Bartnik says he turned on the tap for two days to keep the pipes from freezing and bursting.

After mom passed away in March, Bartnik took over the bills and discovered January and February's bill  for $1, 000.06.

"I called them and asked them to take a look," said Bartnik.

According to Bartnik's mom's payment history, the highest bill she ever paid was $142.

"And when they did take a look at it, they called me back and said well, the only recourse I had is to write a letter to explain why I might have used that much water," said Bartnik.

CBS 6 learned during the same billing cycles, the neighborhood was undergoing a drainage improvement project.

City utility crews marked the street to Bartnik's mother's home.

"We're the closest house to the road as it is. And they dug up all through the ditch outside, beside the house," said Bartnik.

CBS 6 contacted the city. A few minutes after our call, we saw two guys taking measurements from the street to that home.

Marianne Jorgenson, with the department of Public utilities, sent CBS 6 this statement:

“The high water consumption was caused by the customer leaving on a faucet during the winter so that the house water pipes would not freeze. The customer’s daughter freely admitted this information to Lynette Sherman, a supervisor in our Customer Care Center, during conversation about a high bill on February 26, 2014. During this conversation, Ms. Sherman offered for DPU to do a high bill investigation; however, the customer’s daughter indicated that she had her brother turn on the water to avoid the house pipes freezing while their mother was in the hospital. Ms. Sherman advised that the running faucet would result in the high bill she received.”

Jorgenson said city utility crews did check the water meter twice at that home during the billing cycle.  And they say it's legit.  Now, they're offering the family a payment plan.

John Bartnik says he'll pay the bill, just not a thousand dollars.

"If I owe it. I mean I just want to be fair.  That's all," said Bartnik.  "I mean they can call me up and say oops we messed up, what do you say we take a years worth of bills and average them out and you pay that, that would be fair."



    • Jessi

      I completely agree that you shouldn’t have to pay someone’s bills after they pass. My mom just passed away in January. We also left water running in the sinks and showers to keep the pipes from freezing. The water bill was never more than $180. There is no way he or his mother did the same and somehow racked up $1000. Unless that house somehow has 15 showers and 20 sinks. That’s insane.

  • Mariane Jorgenson

    Everything about the drainage work, the utility markings, mysterious guys doing survey work, is a red herring to distract the viewer/reader. Why even mention all of that and show the footage? That doesn’t impact your water bill. You pay only for what passes through your meter into the house.

    Leaving a faucet running even for a couple of days can run up a water bill quickly. A leaky toilet uses two gallons of water a minute. Do the math and see how quickly that adds up.

    If you have an unattended house with the heat turned off and want to guard against pipes bursting, you turn off the water at the cut-off valve or at the meter, and bleed the pipes out to empty them.

    The actual water bill for two months was a little over $350, the rest of the $1,000 was the wastewater bill, which is same water going out of the house. If you run up a high water bill, the wastewater increases, too. More in, more out. So it’s not actually $1,000 worth of water going into the house.

    So the city should call the customer and say “oops we messed up”?
    The city didn’t leave faucets running.

  • Irene Newman

    We ran our water for 2 months & our water bill was not that high. Not even close to $100.oo. They need to check around the meter. We got a bill one time for $2000.00!!!! We had them investigate this bill. Come to find out there was crack in the water meter!!!!! Make sure they check around the water meter!!!!

  • Kevin Parks

    Sensationalism is what increases viewers. I commend Ms. Jorgenson for clarifying/defending the DPU. I’m obviously not a city employee, and don’t like the monopoly-run public works, electric, et al companies control, but it is what it is…

  • Not a drip.

    Dude…you don’t leave the faucet wide open. Let it drip. Drip, drip, drip. If you left the faucet running wide open, it’s not wonder your bill is $1000.

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