News Analysis: The Anatomy Of A Wall Township Water Bill
Why are you getting charged so much, or so little, or so inconsistently?
It comes every three months and almost no one pays attention to it until there’s a problem.
With this quarter’s Water and Sewer bill, there’s a problem -- a big one for a growing list of Wall Township residents who are reporting to Wall Patch and to town hall over-the-top charges they had no way to expect.
Some of those charges approach $2,000 for a period of time where water use is generally less than in the hotter summer months, officials have said.
Township Administrator Jeffry Bertrand said last week there was little quality control over water meter reading in town. There is no computerized database of who was checking what meters on what days with which equipment, so getting a baseline on the meter reading process to check for a breakdown is currently impossible.
(For more on your water meter, please see: "Water Meters 101: What is that thing, anyway?"
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Bills can be disputed by calling (732) 449-8444 ext. 221. And any complaints can always be taken to Jeffry Bertrand, township administrator, who oversees all township departments: (732) 449-8444 ext. 216.
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Mayor Todd Luttman also was without answers last week. He said the administration was looking into residents’ complaints but said he also was curious about his own inflated bill.
Meanwhile, residents from all over town are struggling to find ways to cover bills that are two-, three- and reportedly up to five-times their normal charges.
Maybe it’s finally time to pay attention to that water bill.
Anatomy of the water bill
Residents in town are billed at least $43.47 for incoming water up to 6,000 gallons, depending on the size of your water meter, according to Wall Township’s water and sewer ordinance. On top of that, residents also are billed at least $105.47 in a flat sewer fee. That flat sewer fee covers outgoing water and sewage up to 31,250 gallons, or more than five times the amount covered by the fee for incoming water.
Every homeowner who has a water hookup in Wall will pay, at minimum, $149.19 each quarter, according to the fee structure. There are some exceptions, but the vast majority of Wall residents are required by local law to have a water/sewer hook up, according to the ordinance.
The fee structure is not unusual. A review of neighboring Howell Township’s water and sewer ordinance shows roughly the same fee structure and gallon allotment.
The bulk of charges that show up at any one time on a bill, however, are for water use in excess of the allotted, flat-fee, amounts. And the more water use above the set limits, the more it costs you for each gallon, according to the graduated fee structure.
For water use from 6,001 gallons to 13,000 gallons, the town will charge you $5.33 for each 1,000 gallons. After that, charges increase to $6.78 for every 1,000 gallons up to 25,000 gallons. Anything over 25,000 gallons will set you back $7.94 for every 1,000 gallons.
For outgoing water, or sewer, the town will charge you $1.92 for every 1,000 gallons more than the allotted $31,250. There are no further fee tiers for sewer, however, according to the ordinance.
Not all bills are accurate reads, town officials have said. Some are estimates, normally based on an average of what your household has used in the past.
If those estimates are high, the next actual read of your water meter will reflect a dip in your payment, because your actual water use was less than the estimate. In effect, you overpaid for the previous quarter.
If, however, those estimates are low, the next time your meter is read, your bill will be higher, since you effectively underpaid during the previous estimated billing period, officials have said.
While the town clearly has a period of at least three months to adjust your bill to more accurately reflect your water use, homeowners have only 15 days to dispute a bill, according to the ordinance.
Unpaid charges accrue interest and become a lein on your property, the ordinance says.
If you’re enrolled in the town’s direct debit program, the money for your water will will be automatically debited, in full, from your bank account on the due date of the bill.
If you’re disputing a bill, it would be best to get that completely taken care of before the direct debit happens. Refunds can be issued, but they have to be approved by the Township Committee. That can take six to eight weeks, according to the water department.