FLEMINGTON, NJ - When Kristen Boyce opened her utility bill this quarter it was a shock.
The Flemington resident and about a dozen other locals received hefty water bills that included past shortages in water usage charges.
The snafu is still being investigated, but the current assessment of the situation, according to Mayor Betsy Driver, is that it was an “institutional failure of our technology.”
Boyce, who spoke during the public comment portion of a recent council meeting, called it a “debacle,” and added that “the town could have handled it better.”
The bills in question were sent out without a letter of explanation or any additional information.
“I feel like the borough dropped the ball,” said Boyce.
Driver, who continually apologized to Boyce, told her, “I probably found out when you did.” Then she amended that saying, “actually I found out when my phone began ringing.”
The water and sewer bill Boyce received was for $1,500 above her typical $250 to $300 quarterly charges.
The mayor noted that one couple living in a condominium received a bill for $3,000. She explained that an investigation is in process.
“We’re trying to figure out what happened and how it happened,” she said. “We hope to have some resolution and some solution. This is unacceptable to those affected. But we’re not quite there yet, there are a few more pieces we have to look at.”
The theory is that the problem was caused by meters that weren’t sending out correct data, coupled with a failure in the computer program.
Driver said they are uncovering lots of stones and following paper trails to figure out exactly what happened and locate the precise weak spot in the system.
Boyce said it was her understanding that the borough knew for three years that her metering wasn’t working correctly.
“And I was not notified in any way shape or form,” she said.
When she called the water department and spoke with Rebecca Newman, the utilities clerk, she said didn’t get any answers or help. Boyce did request a breakdown of the charges and she is still waiting to receive it.
At that meeting, the council unanimously passed resolution 2020- 87, which created a one-year interest free payment plan for the residents who received the problem water and sewer bills.
Boyce said she didn’t feel it was enough, especially in light of the pandemic.
“Everyone’s really struggling,” she said. “Some people are out of work and even though we have a year to pay it, it’s hanging over our heads now.”
As it stands, Boyce will have to continue to pay her quarterly utility bill plus an extra $150 a month to satisfy the charges.
“It may not seem like a lot, $150, but it is,” she said.
Councilman Michael Harris said they need to find out what the total outstanding amount is for all of the delayed charges.
The mayor said they know what has been billed, however since utility bills go out in monthly segments, there could be more of these backlogged bills coming out in the next cycle.
Newman did not return a call for comment.