By: Jeff Epstein, Editor, Citizens’ Media TV
Edited by: Ben Szioli
MT. HOLLY, NJ — At the September 14th Mt. Holly Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) meeting, Executive Director Robert Maybury stated that at some (unknown) time in the past, a residential customer in Eastampton reported being overcharged due to incorrect water meter sizes. Maybury said that the MUA “went above and beyond” and checked out many of the homes in the development. It was discovered that sixty homes were being overcharged, and all discrepancies were fixed. Now that the problem appears to be taking place on a grander scale, the MUA has committed to fixing the issue for all of its approximately 17,000 customers.
Due to limitations in the MUA’s computer system, the process is a manual one and will take time (weeks, not months) to complete. Specifically, the water meter size (as provided by the water company) for each customer must be manually compared to that on the computer screen in the MUA’s system. It was stated that because of limitations in the software, there is no way to accomplish this in an automated fashion.
(Notifying customers of errors had not yet been considered, but a possibility brought up by the commissioners was to place a note directly on each customer’s bill.)
However, as stated by solicitor Tom Coleman, no reimbursements will be made to any customer. Coleman and the Commissioners said that this is because no errors were made by the MUA. All meter sizes in the MUA computer system originated from the builders (and sometimes owners) when the property was connected to the sewer system. Chairman Jules Thiessen stated that, in previous years, “it was not logical” for the MUA to audit the meter sizes for all 17,000 customers because there was no reason for them to believe that they were incorrect. The fact that the analysis is a manual process may have also contributed to the decision.
The homes in the Country Estates neighborhood in Lumberton, as discovered by Andrew Huber and reported by Citizens’ Media TV on Tuesday, have all been confirmed by the MUA to be incorrectly charged. “The total amount of money these 101 homeowners in Country Estates were overcharged during the last two-plus decades is staggering. Somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000. That’s enough to buy a Maserati,” said Huber, referring to the car he says the solicitor drove away in. “In the affected area of county Estates, there are over 35 properties charged at the correct water meter size. This tells me that billing adjustments were made over the past two decades and the MUA should have known there was a problem.”
Preserving historical information
When these corrections are made, it is currently unclear if historical water meter sizes will be preserved. For example, will it be permanently recorded that, from March of 2002 through September 14th, 2017, 3 Coriander Drive in Lumberton had a 3/4″ meter size, and then, on September 15th, it was changed to 5/8″? If it is ever decided that reimbursement is in fact necessary, whether by the MUA or the builders, this historical information is the only way to know who was overcharged and by how much.
Citizens’ Media TV asked Brandy Boyington, assistant to Executive Director Maybury, how and if this history will be preserved. She responded, “All the below [questions] will be answered in the minutes up for approval at October’s meeting.” Unfortunately, since these meter size corrections will take “weeks, not months,” it is possible that most, if not all, of these corrections may be completed before the minutes are publicly accessible. We repeated the question, emphasizing the time sensitivity, but have so far not received a response.
In the interest of recording this historical information, we also submitted a New Jersey Open Public Records Act (ORPA) request for the following:
For all MHMUA customers, and for data as existed in your database/software system on August 31st, 2017 (or any point before water meter corrections were made), can you please provide a text file where each line contains the following information for a single customer, in tab-delimited format:
- street number,
- street name,
- current water meter diameter size in inches, and
- The full name of the builder who originally provided the meter size to the MUA.
3 Coriander St Lumberton 3/4 Good Builder, Inc.
The precedent for our request is a June 20th, 2017 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling.
The request was submitted on Friday afternoon. OPRA allows governmental organizations seven days to respond. This article will be updated when the information, or a response, is received.