Down the Drain: A Taking Action Investigation

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – When Laurie Addis of Huntsville finally realized she’d been paying a sewage bill for potentially two decades, she was shocked and sickened.

Addis has a septic tank and she has lived at the same property for 20 years.  She didn’t realize her monthly sewage bill from the City of Huntsville was wrongly issued until her brother mentioned it one evening.

“I imagined everything I could do with that money.  Everything we have done without over the years” said Addis.

That’s when she realized she’s been forking over thousands of dollars to the city unnecessarily.   She called up Huntsville Utilities Customer Service Department and asked for a refund.  What she got was a 3-year-customer reimbursement for about $1,100 dollars.  That amount was credited to Addis’ account.

Huntsville Utilities told her that was all they could do, and state law only permits a refund for three years, whether it’s in the customer’s favor or the other way around.  If she wanted more, she needed to contact the city directly.  Their reasoning was that the city collects the funds as it pertains to sewage.  Addis was outraged.

Addis filled out an affidavit and submitted it to the Huntsville City Attorney’s Office, who denied her claim.  A letter from the city included the following statement:  “According to our investigation, the city of Huntsville was not negligent, careless or unskillful in regards to your claim.  Although we sympathize with your loss, the City of Huntsville is not responsible.”

That’s when Addis contacted WHNT News 19 and we took action.  We called Huntsville Utilities and the City on several occasions.  The city attorney declined our request for an interview, however, Huntsville Utilities Communications Director Bill Yell obliged.

Yell was quick to point out that Huntsville Utilities is just the billing agent in this particular case.  He said knowing what’s on your utility bill and what you’re being charged for is a joint effort and customers need to be proactive in reading and understanding their bills.

“No matter what financial dealings you have, you need to pay attention to your bills,” said Yell.

He said customers can read their own meters and fact check all on their own. Yell said being diligent about that will help avoid mistakes and over billing. Here’s how:

 

WHNT did want to know why Huntsville Utilities credits accounts as opposed to cutting checks.  Addis was never given the option of obtaining the money directly.

“That’s the easiest way for all entities to just credit the account,” said Yell.

About a week into our probing of Laurie Addis’ dilemma, the city decided to give her a larger refund. They cut Addis a check for $2,000, which is a reimbursement for roughly a 10-year time frame.

Addis was pleased with the outcome.  She told us she wished she didn’t have to battle so hard for it.  Either way, she was thrilled WHNT News 19 got involved.

“I am just happy.  That’s the word, happy,” said Addis.



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