KALB Investigates: Woodworth citizens speak out on 'excessive' water charges

WOODWORTH, La. (KALB) - It’s something most of us have to do, pay our utility bills. But there are some Woodworth residents who were recently surprised when their water was suddenly shut off, and are upset over what they say is an excessive amount of charges to get it turned back on.

Amanda Quebedeaux and her family were surprised to find their water was suddenly shut off one afternoon. And after finding out they were the only home in their Woodworth neighborhood without water, they then went to the utilities office to get to the bottom of it.

"Needless to say it had been cut off due to a late fee of $8.91 that we really didn't know was there," said Quebedeaux.

But that small late fee ended up costing them a whole lot more.

In addition to the late fee, they had to pay in advance for the current month's bill of around $99. Plus, a $105 reconnection fee and a $190 deposit that includes not only a $100 water charge, but also a $35 sewer deposit and a $55 garbage charge. That left them a tab of more than $400 to get their water back on, charges Quebedeaux said is excessive.

"It's highway robbery, it's the craziest thing, and we had no idea it goes off like this," said Quebedeaux.

Let's take a look at the bill:

Quebedeaux owed $99.57 by Feb. 5 where she said she paid by check on the 5th. But the Town of Woodworth determined Quebedeaux's bill was late, tagging on that $8.91 late fee. But, since that late fee wasn't paid by the 15th, that nearly nine dollar fee ballooned into more than $400.

"At least we should have a little grace period, or a notification or a phone call," said Quebedeaux.

The only notice is at the bottom of the bill, where it said accounts are subject to interruption after the 15th of each month, and the bill has to be paid by three p.m. on the 5th. But Quebedeaux didn't even know she had a late fee.

"When I called up there, they told me they weren't allowed to call the public to let them know," said Quebedeaux.

But the Quebedeaux’s aren't the only ones. News Channel 5 received several bills from concerned customers.

One resident paid more than $225 to get the water back on for a 98 cent late fee.

For another, a nearly $17 late fee turned into nearly $400.

So, we went up to Mayor David Butler's office to get answers.

"I know you've already been to Cooley Crossing interviewing people," said Butler when we arrived.

Steven Maxwell- "How do you know that?"

Butler- "it's my job."

Maxwell- "I wonder if Mayor Jacques Roy knows where I’m at, that's crazy."

Butler- "Maybe he should."

We told Mayor Butler our conversations are on the record, but would only give one answer in a formal interview.

Butler-"We operate according to policy."

Maxwell- "Anything else you'd like to say?"

Butler- "That's it."

And that's true, the resolution backs up the charges. But why are customers paying deposits after years of being a resident? During our conversation in a public setting at city hall, Mayor Butler responded to one complainant.

Butler-"a few years ago he expanded his house, he put a bigger gas meter in and everything, we had to redo the gas lines and put it back in. You know what he paid the city?

*holds up a zero*

“…And now he's got a problem?"

But for residents, they say the law goes too far.

"I think there needs to be a change,” said Quebedeaux.

We did tell Butler several times that everything is on the record. And even though he only would give that one answer in a formal interview setting, he did say more that was pertinent to the story in the open at city hall.

Butler also told us that if citizens have a problem with the law, they can go their town alderman.

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