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Couple's water bill in new Pasco home tops $3,000

NEW PORT RICHEY — Eugene Foy and Louise Gritmon, a couple from New York, bought a house on Saltamonte Drive a few months ago. They wanted to move closer to family and start a new chapter in their lives.

Part of the welcome they got from Pasco County: a bill stating they had used 600,000 gallons of water at a cost of $3,258.56.

"That's enough to fill 60 swimming pools," Gritmon, an accountant, said. "We obviously knew this was wrong."

She contacted the news media and on Wednesday representatives from Pasco County responded. The county denied the amount was an error, but said the bill would be on hold pending an investigation by Pasco Clerk Paula O'Neil, who is authorized to act as a watchdog.

"This is not an overnight process," O'Neil said. "We are going to be thorough."

She's going to ask the state inspector general to look into the matter and, in the meantime, any Pasco County utilities customers with something off with their bills can email the Pasco clerk at waterbill@pascoclerk.com.

Robert Sigmon, fiscal and business services director for the utility, said the county switched to a new billing system in June. He denied that there was a mistake in Foy and Gritmon's account.

"We feel the bill is appropriate," he said.

Said county spokesman Doug Tobin: "We really don't know what happened." But, he added, the county does not have the ability to check individual water meters for malfunctions.

The couple closed on their house at the end of April and moved in a few weeks ago. The dates in question are June 30 to July 18. The only people who have been in the house, Gritmon said, were craftsmen working on a new kitchen.

She said she called the utility and was given a few scenarios.

Maybe a spigot was on full blast the whole time. The problem with that, Gritmon said, is the spigots don't have that much capacity.

Maybe, she said the company told her, an industrial truck came and stole her water.

She thinks someone would have noticed such trucks in her neighborhood.

On July 18, the problem fixed itself, according to a daily readout given to her by the county. She thinks it was a reboot of the computer system that tabulates billing.

From 2008 to December 2013, the county replaced all residential water meters, at a cost of about $12 million.

Pasco Commission Chairman Jack Mariano suggested the issue be used as a test case to revamp how unusually high water bills are treated.

The county currently awards discounts if customers can show a high water bill was triggered by a leak. Customers can take a plumber's invoice to the utilities department to get a discount, usually the lowest rate available.

But in Foy and Gritmon's case, even if they could find a leak, they would still owe more than $1,500 with the discount.

Mariano said that in rare instances where the problem cannot be explained, it should be blamed on a faulty meter and the customer charged as in past bills. Also, the meter should be replaced.

"If it can't be explained, it could be a problem with the meter. Even if there is only a 0.1 percent chance, it could still happen," he said.

Times staff writer Rich Shopes contributed to this report.

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