Volusia faces water bill problems



VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - New information is surfacing about a water billing fiasco in Volusia County that is now expected to cost the city of Port Orange millions of dollar.

WFTV recently reported that thousands of customers were either under-billed or possibly overcharged for water, and Channel 9’s Lori Brown found out prisoners were responsible for printing bills.

Port Orange recently released hundreds of pages of emails related to the water meter and billing mess.

“It was a major breakdown in several departments, and inexcusable,” said Orange City Council member Don Burnette.

In one email Tony Marino, the director of information technology, recounts asking the city's meter service foreman about the zero reads.

She answered, “We don't bother checking them any more as there are too many. We wait for the customer to let us know."

Port Orange City Council member Bob Ford wants a major overhaul.

“I was a police officer for several years, and I don't have a lot of faith in the honor system,” Ford said.

Marino goes on to ask about the prisoners outsourced to print the city's bills through a nonprofit group called Pride.

“Do the prisoners printing the bills at Pride check for accuracy at all?"

The city started outsourcing its printing services to Pride in 2009 to avoid buying costly new equipment.

“It has little to do with who is mailing the bills, it's who is producing the bills,” said Ford.

Margie Patchett of Volusia Tax Watch is one of the customers billed for zero usage.

“This is millions of dollars our city could have used, perhaps to help offset tax rates in our city, perhaps maintained some of our police and fire,” she said.

Patchett said her water meter is showing less usage than her last bill, and she insists she is still taking showers, doing laundry and filling up her pool.

City Council voted Wednesday night to hire an outside investigator to find out what went wrong.