Man fired for faking meter readings in Winston-Salem

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.

11 comments

  • JDee

    How can they accurately find out how much water was used? One would assume that once the meter is read it is cleared? Obviously, I’m no meter reader but it seems that the City could potentially be overcharging residents and guessing how much water was consumed. Hmm …

    • Trav May

      They do not reset the meters. The number keeps going up. That way, all they have to do is subtract the previous reading from the current reading to determine what your usage was for the month.

      Also, besides customers inquiring about their bill, the utility departments/companies have a good general idea of what those readings should be, based upon their customers’ past usage histories.

  • fergearl1234

    the same thing happen to me between September/October. it took someone in Clemons to call attention to this problem. i called the city and even had an inspector to come to my house to check for leaks. nothing was wrong. my bill was over $90 and i am a party of one. because i live in the eastern part of town there was no need in telling me the truth. i was told everything accept what they told this man.i knew all the time that something was wrong!! i am really grateful that mr.reed took this to fox8. i hope that everyone that was overcharge will demand reimbursement from the city for what they knew all the time. they would not listen to me but they listen to mr. reed. thank you mr.reed.

    • JC (@z1creep)

      Most meters are read electronically now. The readers just ride by slowly unless they have a problem with your device. That’s when they have to read it manually. 360 is not a big number when sometimes depending of density you can be finished in 4 hours or less.

      • Trav May

        Some utilities may still read manually. The 360 number is probably an average number. A driving route may be less, while a lot of apartments may be way more. When I read meters I could read as few as 150 all driving, or as much as 900 for all apartments.

  • R

    fergear1234 In the end you won’t be over charged or under charged. If you people would read! When the meter is read correctly everything will even out, if you over paid it will be subtracted from you current bill. You won’t have too DEMAND reimbursement from the city they will do simple math, you know, subtract the little number from big number and “whala” Then they will send you a bill with either a balance due or a credit which ever the case maybe. I know cities aren’t always correct or right but they aren’t always the bad guy either!

  • Bigjohn

    “Utilities Director Ron Hargrove confirmed a contract meter reader employee was fired in November after the city discovered he was falsifying meter readings”.

    How about hiring a county employee to read the meters? Then you would have more control over who does that kind of job.

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