This story has been corrected March 12, 2014. An explanation follows the story.
Olney resident Debora Doherty said she had a sinking feeling in her stomach when she saw that her recent water bill was for $1,101.65.
“I panicked,” she said. “The highest bill I have ever had was for $307.”
Doherty is not alone. Some homeowners in Olney are also questioning marked increases in their Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission water bills.
Company officials say there is a reason behind the increased costs. In a news release, WSSC spokesman Jerry Irvine stated that customers are being billed for longer than normal billing cycles.
“The challenging winter weather has caused a delay in meter reading, resulting in billing cycles that could be as much as one month longer than normal,” he said. “That means some customers could see a bill increase of as much as 30 percent” compared to the bill they received last winter.
Irvine said the water company opted to delay meter readings rather than estimate the bills in an effort to provide customers with a bill that most accurately reflects their usage.
Irvine said the billing cycle included the winter holidays and several snow days, which could increase consumption.
The next billing cycle will be shortened, which he said should result in lower bills.
Doherty posted her concern on the Olney-Brookeville listserv, and many residents responded stating that they, too, had unusually high water bills. Even though they know about the longer billing cycles, many Olney-area residents said things just don’t add up.
Olney Mill resident Matt Lewis posted a questionnaire on the listserv, and while he admits that it is unscientific, the results of those with a higher bill showed the average bill was $103 higher, and average use was up 52 gallons per day. The survey did not include Doherty’s bill. Doherty’s most recent bill, which covered 119 days from Oct. 28 to Feb. 24, stated that she was using an average of 588 gallons per day. The previous bill, which covered 90 days from July to October, showed a usage of 188 gallons per day.
Eric Roth, a resident of Williamsburg Village, said his consumption increased from 137 gallons per day to 237 per day for two adults and two children.
“When you look at it per day, it just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Eleni Pizanias of Olney Mill said her bill was $305 for two adults and two children.
“It’s never been that high, even in the summer,” she said. “I am definitely going to call [WSSC].”
Toni Cunningham of Olney Oaks said her bill went from $182 to $310, with three people living in her home.
“It’s insane,” she said. “That is a huge jump, and it is ridiculous,” she said. “We were gone for 10 days during that period, too.”
Danny Rubenstein, a resident of Norbeck Grove, offered a possible rationale for the higher than normal bills.
Rubenstein said he understands the longer billing cycle, but even when taking that into consideration, his water consumption still seemed higher than normal.
“A lot of homes in Olney have a humidifier attached to the furnace, and with more heat usage, there is more water running,” he said. “It could be up to a couple of gallons per hour, and that might account for the difference,” he said.
Doherty has rented her townhouse in the Highlands of Olney for three years. When she got her high bill she thought there was a leak somewhere. She and her landlord looked inside and out, and conducted dye tests in the toilets, but found nothing.
She said the water company sent out a representative, who did not detect any problems.
“WSSC said they will work with me, but I am not sure what that means just yet,” she said.
As for Doherty’s bill, water officials believe there is something going on unrelated to the delay in meter readings, and they are continuing to look into it.
Correction: The community’s listserv did not include Doherty’s bill.