MAUMEE, Ohio — WTOL 11 is going to bat for a number of Maumee residents. Several of them have reached out over the last few weeks telling us about what they call outrageous water bills.
Cheryl Baker's a mom of three.
She works third shift and lives in a 1300-square-foot Maumee home.
But the city of Maumee just turned her world upside down with one water bill.
"I came out and got it and opened it up,” Baker said. “I thought I'll just pay it today – I couldn't believe it – couldn't believe it when I opened this up. $1,600. No, that's crazy."
It's a three-bed, two-bath home with no leaks and no extras.
"We don't wash cars,” Baker said. “We don't water the grass. We don't play in the hose. We don't do any of that."
Baker said she’s been back and forth with the city. They’ve told her it's the toilet flapper. It's the outdoor spigot. Or, it’s a leaky sump pump. She says all have been checked, and that's not it. In fact, she says most of the usage numbers that seem really off, were during times when she says no one was even home.
And Baker's not alone.
"Typically our bill averaged around $300 every three months – and that bill was over $700,” Maumee resident Susan Herhold said. “It was crushing. It was a shock. It was right around the holidays. It was difficult. We paid it, but it was like, how is this happening, why is this happening?"
The struggles in town don’t end there.
WTOL 11 also heard from Shelby Lutz.
Lutz said her household got hit with a more than $2,100 water bill in March and her family had to take out a small loan to cover it.
"I mean, I have kids in the house. I can't not pay the bill, you know?” Lutz said. “I can't. I get emotional. I’m sorry. I've never in my whole life been late on bills. I have great credit. We pay everything on time. So this sucks."
WTOL 11 walked up and down a bunch of Maumee streets, knocking on doors, talking with residents and learning that not everybody's in this situation. It's hit or miss with some bills right in line.
Lisa Herrin's lived just a block from downtown for 20 years. She told WTOL 11 that her bills have been manageable. But she knows that's not the case everywhere.
"No, it's ridiculous, and I know some of those people,” Herrin said. "So yes, I'm glad that you're checking into it. It certainly needs to be driven to a resolution."
So, what's behind this? Maybe a couple of things.
In an email to WTOL 11, City Administrator Patrick Burtch wrote, "Without question, Maumee utility customers are experiencing some difficulties partially as a result of necessary increases in utility rates in an effort to raise funds to alleviate the city's very publicized sanitary sewer discharge violations through extensive infrastructure repair and additionally to upgrade the city('s) very aging potable drinking water infrastructure."
Maumee's on the hook for about $100 million in upgrades after not properly reporting decades of sewage discharge into the river.
WTOL 11 asked Maumee Mayor Rich Carr for an interview and an opportunity to discuss these bills.
He wrote, "We will not publicly discuss individual residents' personal water bills or payment history. For residents who have a bill they are not capable of immediately paying, they can contact the city."
Baker said she did that. She got no help, she said.
WTOL 11 reached out to every city council member to ask about their bills. We got one response.
Council member Margo Puffenberger told us, "My water bill has gone up considerably, but I expected that due to all of the variables that have contributed to this 'perfect storm' of sorts in Maumee."
That's little consolation for Baker who said her $1,600 bill's about to go up another 10 percent with late charges.
"This million-dollar fine for dumping waste in the Maumee River, who's paying for it?” Baker said sarcastically. “We are. Absolutely. Can't be that big of a change.”
WTOL 11 asked her, “How bitter of a pill is that to swallow?”
She answered, “Bitter enough that I probably won't consider staying in Maumee after next year."