Council asked to waive $93 bill
When water leaks occur in the vicinity of a water meter, just who is responsible? The Bath Town Council found out how sticky this issue can be at their February 5 meeting.
Holding a length of flexible polyethylene tubing, Thomas Lang of Charleston, representing his father-in-law and town resident Dennis Unger, addressed the council. Unger has lived at 172 Martinsburg Road for over 40 years.
According to Lang, Unger installed copper pipe years ago between the town's water meter and his home. In 1991, the town replaced the old water meter with a new one.
To keep interruption of
service to a minimum, the
water department installed
the new meter next to the
old meter before cutting over the service. This required extending the copper pipe by
18 inches on Unger's side
of the water meter. The job
was done using polyethylene tubing.
Sixteen years later, a leak developed, causing Unger's water bill to triple. Unger believed he had copper pipe installed all the way up to the meter. But when the pipe was dug up to fix the leak, the polyethylene tubing extension was discovered, and found to be the cause of the problem.
Lang argued there are two issues involved. First, Unger was not informed that the polyethylene tubing had been installed. Second, even though the leak occurred on Unger's side of the water meter, the cause was failure of the tubing installed by the town.
Water Works manager Kevin Hancock said that when the new meter was installed, the polyethylene tubing was warranted longer and rated better than copper tubing. Hancock said that, now, the Water Works prefers to install copper tubing.
Unger and Lang want the Water Works to pay $93 left on the water bill. The Water Works had already reduced the bill to the minimum payment, rather than charge for the lost water. When leaks occur, the Water Works calculates adjustments to customer bills based on a standard formula.
"I can't get myself together to think I should pay any of it, because I had nothing to do with it. I didn't touch nothing, I didn't do nothing," Unger said.
Councilman Kenny Easton said he once owned a home in Maryland that the contractor had wired with aluminum electrical wire, which later caused all kinds of problems. Maryland eventually changed the code to prohibit the use of aluminum wire, but he had no recourse with the contractor because it was permitted at the time.
So, who is responsible?
Mayor Susan Webster questioned whether the town is responsible since the tubing lasted for 16 years.
Councilman David Crosby said that normally the town is responsible up to the water meter and the homeowner is responsible on the other side. He was worried about setting a precedent if the town waived the $93 bill. He said that if he had to vote that night he would vote no on waiving the charges.
"I think we ought to follow what we are required to do by the Public Service Commission. If they require us to do it, then we should pay for it," Crosby said.
Webster mentioned that the town had, under certain circumstances in the past, waived charges beyond the normal adjustment. Webster assured Unger that they would hold the $93 in arrears until the matter could be studied further.
Council voted to table the issue until the Water Committee contacts the Public Service Commission and reports back to council.