ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, LA (WVUE) - St. John the Baptist Parish officials are working to find out why some of the parish's water meters are giving inconsistent readings, causing a financial burden for residents.
For weeks, hundreds of St. John the Baptist Parish residents have called and complained to the parish every day. The complaints have been so overwhelming that leaders created a call center to address the issues. Most complaints are about increased water bills.
"When we can't come up with what's happening with these spikes, that's a problem for us," Parish President Natalie Robottom said. "The people I've spoken with have not been very upset. They want their problem solved, and we want to solve them because this is a problem for us, as well."
For months, water issues have plagued St. John residents and leaders. Last year, FOX 8 reported about malfunctioning WiFi meter readers, but Robottom said the current meter issue is a separate problem that was just recently discovered.
"If you spiked or your bill was high and you had a leak, then that should continue, but it's not. You spike and you go back to your normal average bill for the next several months and we're just trying to figure that out," Robottom said.
To address the issue, the parish hired two extra meter readers and three extra office workers to answer complaints. One such increase happened at an elementary school where the bill jumped by $29,400 in one month.
"You don't get this kind of bill with a water leak or a gasket leak," Robottom said. "You're going to have to see something else happening."
Robottom said the company who sold the meters to the parish says the meters are accurate and only track water flowing through the pipes. But the vendor cannot answer why the meters are not reading consistent numbers.
Officials also called in consultants in an effort to find out what's causing the problem. The parish has only tracked 41 instances out of 16,000 meters where the increases were extreme and noticeable. Residents complain they are seeing their bills double, but that there are also times where there are unexplained minimal increases.
"When you know what your bill runs every month and something like this comes in, it's a problem," Laplace resident Jodi Becnel said.
Becnel's water bill doubled in October, and the parish gave her a credit for November because of an error. But in December her bill doubled again - and the parish did not give her credit.
"With her call today, she's telling me my meter is accurate. That I have a leak," Becnel said.
FOX 8 checked Becnel's meter to see if it was running continuously, which would be a sign of a leak. When she turned on an outside faucet, the meter spun. But as soon as she turned the water off, the meter stopped.
"Nothing's on in the house. If I had a leak, those numbers would be moving," Becnel said.
"I hope this gets resolved ASAP," resident Brandi Carr said. "A lot of people live on fixed incomes, and it's really putting a burden on us."
Carr said recently her bills increase by $20 then fall back down to the average she has paid for years.
She complained to the parish, but as soon as she believes the problem is corrected, the bill amount increases again.
"When I call (the parish), they just keep on putting me to the voice system, to the voice system, to the voice system. Well there's nothing the voice system can do for me. So what I'm doing, I'm just paying what I usually pay on an average monthly basis and that's it. They're just rolling it over to the next month and I'm just praying they don't turn off my water," Carr said.
Robottom urges residents to pay the average amount if they find an issue with their bill, and she assures residents their water will not be turned off if a problem is discovered with their meter.
The parish president also said many residents have high bills due to only paying a portion of their bills month after month and accumulating late fees.
Robottom says it could take parish leaders months to find a resolution.