FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. -- Some Forsyth County residents may notice their most recent water bills are much higher than usual, and the Winston-Salem utilities department says a contract employee is to blame.
Utilities Director Ron Hargrove confirmed a contract meter reader employee was fired in November after the city discovered he was falsifying meter readings.
Hargrove said the man was supposed to record 360 meter reads per route during a shift. They believe when he ran out of time and didn't reach that goal, he faked the rest. Hargrove said it appears the employee was entering low consumption readings for customers he didn't make it to.
The city has 13 meter reader employees, according to Hargrove, and about 130,000 meters in their system. Three of the meter readers, including the one accused of falsifying readings, were contract workers with a company. Hargrove said the city terminated their contract with that company.
Retired Army Col. Max Reed lives in Clemmons and first noticed his bill was unusually high two weeks ago.
Clemmons uses Winston-Salem utilities and water is billed every two months.
Reed says his bill is usually around a hundred dollars, depending on the time of year, but for the November/December cycle it was $257.
"This one jumped and was almost triple what it had ever been. There was an $85 charge that I didn't understand," Reed explained to the utilities company. A representative called Reed while FOX8 was at his home trying to help find out what happened with his bill.
After the meter reader employee was fired, accurate readings were performed at homes in December. Hargrove said they updated everyone's bills with the water consumption they were not originally charged, which is why the latest bills were so much higher.
He says the residents did actually use the amount of water on their current bills and will have to pay for it.
Reed just wishes he had known about the problem before now and says he had trouble getting an explanation when he called about his high bill.
"It's extremely aggravating to find out that it was going on, someone knew it, and then didn't tell us even after the fact was known," said Reed.
"It's going to be a nightmare figuring out who's been impacted and who's not," added Hargrove.
He said they will take several steps to help customers, beginning with sending out a letter to notify people who may have been affected.
Hargrove said they didn't notify customers sooner because "until the next billing occurred, we didn't really know who was impacted."
At this point he did not have an estimate of the number of customers impacted, but encouraged concerned residents to contact City Link at 311 or the utilities department. He said they were setting up a phone line specifically to handle customers affected by this problem.