Jacqueline Maliszewski was shocked when she opened her latest water bill from the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) and found that her usual bill of roughly $85 had skyrocketed to $2,782.35.

“I was very, very upset,” said Maliszewski, 73 of Newington. “I pay my bills on time. I am literally shocked. It was an ordinary bill, no notation of why it was that high and I’m baffled.”

Maliszewski’s sky-high water bill wasn’t because she had missed payments, however, it was because for years the water meter inside her home was only giving estimated readings and therefore what she paid each month was only an estimated bill.

One of the problems was Maliszewski didn’t read the bills that were sent to her since the death of her husband and has spent part of the year in a condo she owns in South Carolina. She would simply call the MDC every month when she received her pension check and pay over the phone. She says no one informed her that it was only an estimated bill.

When her in-home water meter was replaced by a ground meter earlier this year – which they are doing for all of their customers – the MDC was able to finally reckon the total for that estimated bill and sent her the total owed for underpayments.

Nick Salemi, communications administrator for MDC, says that customers who have estimated bills receive a red-inked notice on their monthly bills informing them that this is only an estimated payment and to contact MDC to get it all figured out.

“Estimated bill means they have an old meter where the meter used to just estimate usage, and if anybody has one of those, they’ve been getting a message on their bill for at least a decade,” Salemi said. “People just don’t get around to it.”

According to Salemi, the old meter registers the water passing through the meter, but the radio frequency device does not transmit the reading to the MDC, resulting in catch-up payments.

“It was a bigger problem years ago. There aren’t too many left,” Salemi said.

According to figures supplied by MDC, of their roughly 100,000 customers, only 626 are still receiving estimated payments. Under MDC policy, they only bill for back usage up to six years, so Maliszewski’s bill, which had been estimated since 2011, could have been much, much higher.

MDC has been replacing the old meters with new meter pits on customer’s property which allows MDC staff to more easily access the meter for repairs and upgrades without having to gain access to the customer’s home, which has proven a hindrance to scheduling repairs in the past.

“We’re really down to the last group of folks who wouldn’t switch over,” Salemi said. “Some people get the estimated bill changed and we owe them money, it just depends on the household.”

Maliszewski says she was unaware a ground meter would be installed on her property until the installation crew showed up at her door. She had COVID at the time and therefore they couldn’t get inside to take out the old meter, but once the new one was up and running the estimated payments were over and she had to catch up on her bill.

Installation of the ground meter involves some digging on the property and then subsequent repair of the property, at no charge to the customer. However, Maliszewski says she has been waiting for the repair to her lawn and garden area that was dug up during installation. 

Salemi says that lawn repair crews installed topsoil and seed because it was early in the year and are returning to fix the remaining areas.

The MDC allows customers who receive a catch-up bill to make payments toward paying it off, something Maliszewski says she will have to do.

“I don’t know who could afford to pay a water bill like this,” Maliszewski said. 

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Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels,...

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