NEWTON (CBS) – Newton homeowners are getting a shock when they go to the mailbox.

Water bills for some homeowners are suddenly thousands of dollars more expensive, and their pleas to city hall are not making much of a difference.

Recently, the City of Newton started replacing their antiquated water meters, which for years now have been failing. Residents have been under-billed, and now they have been hit with a one-time big bill for the water they’ve consumed in years past.

WBZ-TV’s Paul Burton reports.

“People think they are getting these huge bills because of the new meter. They’re getting huge bills because of years of being under-billed,” said Terri Flannery, who recently received a water bill for $3,444.83.

What many residents are most upset about is that the city did not give any clear warning about the faulty meters, until they were slammed with the bills.

Bob Rooney, Newton’s chief operating officer, said they did send a warning to residents to call in their actual meter readings, but many did not pay attention to it.

“If we don’t get an actual number from the homeowner, on the bill… we will estimate based on an average of the last four years of your data trying to get the best estimate we can,” said Rooney.

But, residents said the city’s water billing practices are unfair.

“No accountability, no transparency,” said Fran Maltz, who recently received a bill for more than $4,000. “It reflects a lot of incompetency and fact that their equipment has failed.”

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Art Cohen reports.

The city is offering a one-year, interest-free payment plan for residents who have those high bills.

But, Newton residents said that’s not good enough and would like to see an independent review of the city’s billing practices of the water department.

A similar situation happened last year in Brockton. At that time, the water department admitted it had been under-charging people for years and started trying to collect, which led to months of complaints and protests.

This summer, Brockton came up with a compromise where the water department would only try to collect money from the last two years, but many residents still are still not happy.

Comments (3)
  1. Mark says:

    These people have no excuse. The city was very clear about the problem in its communications, including the fact that someone whose meter was no longer able to be read externally might get a large bill when the meter was replaced and read directly. The rest of us who were dutifully calling in our readings were presumably paying for the water use these people were getting away with, since the rates are based on the city’s overall usage, and now it’s their turn to pay up and cut the rest of us a break. Or do they think that the people who were doing what the city was clearly asking them to do should foot the bill for them?

  2. Terri Flannery says:

    It is true that the City of Newton asked residents to call in ESTIMATED readings. Billing statements included a reminder to call in if you had two consecutive ESTIMATED readings. However, residents were never asked to call in ACTUAL readings on billing statements. In fact, they were never even alerted to the fact that FALSE ACTUAL readings were an issue. I have every single water bill from the date I purchased my property in 1999 to prove this.

    It is very concerning that the City has known about the FALSE ACTUAL reading issue for a long time and has not been proactive about alerting residents. You might be interested in reading the Public Facilities Committee Report from April 2008 ( It includes evidence of false actual reads as just one of the many problems with the water meter and billing system. The City of Newton’s Water Department had years to alert residents and never bothered to do so. That’s why they are dealing with this mess now. In this case, the Newton Water Department has no excuse.

  3. MG says:

    It is totally unethical to charge residents 2011 rates for 2009 water/sewer usage. It is even less ethical that the City feels they have the right to charge the highest allowable payment tiers. Very disappointing to see the govt passing the burden of their own mistakes to residents again.

    In response to Mark’s comment: I do not expect or want my neighbors paying for my consumption. I do expect the govt STOP REACHING INTO MY POCKET every time they mess up! I would like them to be more accountable for their mistakes, Charging me an overage fee and higher consumption rates is an unjust billing practice. If this happened in the private sector, consumer protection laws would be in place to proctect us!

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