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The water meter just keeps running

We bought a house in Beverly Hills and moved in on June 1. Our first water bill from Rolling Oaks Utilities covered a 22-day period, during which, the bill said, we used 68,000 gallons for a total charge of $95.09.

We complained to Rolling Oaks but, while it admitted the usage was unusual, it also said our water would be shut off if we didn't pay the bill. We felt we were forced to pay.

Our second bill was for a 33-day period, in which we used only 7,000 gallons of water for a charge of $8.85. That was closer to what we're used to paying.

Our next bill arrived in September, for the period of July 25 through Aug. 18. This one charged us $143.19 for 94,000 gallons of water. There is no way two people could use that much water. We didn't do anything different from the previous month.

Our last bill was higher than our electric bill. We're on a fixed income. At this rate, we'll be forced to sell our house.

- Mike Heine

Two people may not be able to use so many gallons of water a month, but two people watering their lawn can. Donald Phillips, project manager at Rolling Oaks Utilities, said that as a result of new conservation measures, those who use the most water pay higher rates per gallon. The highest rates are applied to those using 40,000 gallons or more. "We explained to Mr. and Mrs. Heine that they would need to cut back on watering the lawn if they would like to see the bills go down," he said. "We do have customers that use more than (the Heines) have in a month just to water the lawn."

Phillips said the company received a call from the Office of Utility Regulation on Sept. 5. In response, a work order was issued for a master meter check to ensure that your meter was working correctly. According to Phillips, you were there for the procedure. The check showed the meter was "registering 100 percent accurate," he said.

Utility employees have no way to determine how you use your water. "It was explained to Mr. and Mrs. Heine how to read their meter so that they can keep track of their usage on a daily basis," Phillips said.

If you've done so and still think your use is too high, we suggest you contact an irrigation specialist. He can check your system for leaks and adjust your settings if needed.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request. Requests will be accepted only by mail or voice mail.