Until Thursday, Lollie Ray could only wash her dishes if she had a jug of water. Her water was off. "I really don't know why they keep cutting my water off," she said. "I pay my bill every month."
Gulfport shut off Mrs. Ray's water May 29th, because city records said she owed the water department $4204.68. "How do I owe that much when I pay them every month?" she asked.
That question was posed to Optech project manager Bobby Knesal. Optech runs Gulfport's water department. "The answer is the source of the leak needs to be found," said Knesal, "because water is going through the meter. And we are by law required to bill for every gallon that flows through the meter."
Mrs. Ray used to pay about $65 a month for water. But the last three years, her water meter readings have skyrocketed, and so have her bills. Last August, the family received a $426 water bill. Since 1999, the Rays have paid $3915.96 to the Gulfport Water Department. Yet, city records indicate they still owe a lot more.
Ray contends the city has been difficult to work with. "They won't tell me nothing," she said. "They just come and cut it off. And they just tell me I have to pay, that last bill I got was $4,000 and some dollars. And I can't pay that kind of money."
Knesal defended why the bill was so high. "We have certain guidelines that we have to follow as far as adjustments," he said. "We have to have them come in with proof of a leak."
As soon as the Rays get that documentation from a plumber, Knesal said their bill will come down. "We will adjust the bill going back since 1999 to a normal usage," the Optech manager said.
To the Rays' surprise, their water came back on Thursday afternoon. So Mrs. Ray filled up the tub, and gave her husband a bath. The city admits it turned the water on by mistake. Since it's on, Optech will keep it running, so technicians can watch the meter and determine how much the Rays' water bill should be adjusted.