KIYC: Milltown couple charged for using 624,000 gallons of water due to billing error

Dominick and Julie Petrellese are empty-nesters, so they were shocked when they got their quarterly water and sewer bill from the Borough of Milltown in February.

Walt Kane

Jun 1, 2023, 2:44 AM

Updated 381 days ago

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Imagine getting a water bill that said you’d used enough water for more than 50 families. It happened to a couple from Milltown, so they got Kane in their corner.
Dominick and Julie Petrellese are empty-nesters, so they were shocked when they got their quarterly water and sewer bill from the Borough of Milltown in February. For one thing, it was for more than $1,400, about seven times what they normally pay. It also said they’d used a staggering 624,000 gallons of water, enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
“We'd have to turn the faucets on, go away for two weeks, come back and say, ‘Let's leave it on for another two weeks,’” Dominick Petrellese says.
The U.S. Geological Survey says when it comes to a typical family of two, 624,000 gallons would be the average water usage not for one couple, but for 57. The Petrelleses also brought in a plumber, who certified that there were no leaks. But they say when they complained, Milltown officials tested their meter, pronounced it to be working properly, and told them the bill had to be correct.
Kane In Your Corner dug into the Petrellese’s bill and found one obvious problem - the numbers don’t add up. In fact, all of Milltown’s water and sewer bills have the same problem - a missing decimal point. The Petrelleses’ bill should have shown a water usage of 62.4-thousand gallons, not 624,000. But since the borough was billing for the lower number, that would not explain why this bill was so much higher than usual. 
Milltown’s business administrator, Jeanette Larrison, said higher-than-normal water bills are often caused by things like “leaky toilets, faucets and garden hoses.” But she also promised that the borough will do an additional test on the Petrelleses’ meter and promised to clear up the misleading bills in the future, saying “The next printing of bill stock will have this error corrected.”
If you think a utility bill is too high, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities suggests you start by calling the number on your bill and disputing the amount. You can also ask for the meter to be independently tested. In the case of a water bill, the BPU suggests having a licensed plumber document that there are no leaks.
The problem is, the Petrelleses have done all those things, and so far, none of it has helped.
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