08/30/07 — Lost payment checks shut down water for customers

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Lost payment checks shut down water for customers

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 30, 2007 1:45 PM

The numbers weren't overwhelming, but for the families in the Fork Township Sanitary District who came home Wednesday to find their water cut off -- despite having paid their water bills -- it was a frustrating afternoon.

"They didn't get our check," said Brian Daniels. "It was sent off, but it never cleared. My wife came home today and the water was cut off.

"To cut my water off without any notice like that, that's just not right."

He, like the others in and around the Rosewood community who had their water mistakenly shut off, had paid his bill via online banking.

The problem, however, said Fork Township office manager Paige Hartley, wasn't just centered on one bank. It included BB&T, First Citizens and the Federal Credit Union, among several others.

"That's the weird thing," she said. "The checks were all sent from different banks. I don't know if they all use the same online banking service or what, but there's got to a common thread. It appears to me they were lost in the mail."

Goldsboro Postmaster Vernon Johnson could not be reached for comment.

With the online banking, she explained, it is the banks, not the customers who mail the checks, and in every case, it appears as though they were sent. They just never arrived.

At least several of the lost payments were mailed from the banks the week of Aug. 6-10.

The due date was Aug. 15. After the 20th, payments were considered late and were potentially subject to a $6 late fee, if they had already incurred one within the past year. By the 29th -- the date specified on the bills -- the water was cut off. No notices were sent, as is the district's policy.

"I understand the customers being upset because they had done what they thought they were supposed to," Hartley said. "If I was on the other side I'd be angry, too."

But just like any other month, she explained, all they did was follow procedure.

"We cut off once a month for non-payment," she said. "We followed our normal guidelines with this.

"We had no idea until today (Wednesday)."

Fortunately, though, as of this morning, the problem seemed to have affected less than 20 of the 150 people who had their water turned off. Hartley added that 150 cutoffs was about average.

To get their water turned back on, however, those 15 or so customers were still required to pay the balance of their bills, the $6 late fee and the $25 reconnection fee.

Any chance of having those fees refunded, Hartley explained, would be up to the district board, which is scheduled to meet again at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 19 in the district office.

"That would have to go before the board," she said. "They may consider doing something like that, but it's not a decision we here in the office can make."