Mysterious sewer charge, lack of explanation irk resident

Guest Column


New Jersey American Water Company (NJAWC) continues to bill Howell residents (in the Toscana development and elsewhere) outrageous sewer charges. Then it fails to even provide adequate explanations about the nature of these charges. Seems like they just want you to pay and be quiet. It must be great to be a monopoly that controls a basic necessity of life and takes a cavalier approach to customers who have no other option but to use your services.

I received my most recent horror story from NJAWC for the period of May 17 through Aug. 16, 2007. The entire bill was $362.35.Of that, $232.43 was for sewer charges alone. That’s 64 percent of the bill.

Included was an item line under Other Current Charges amounting to $122.16, for “AD-Prch Swg Adj 1000 QT Res.” I had seen this charge before on past quarterly bills, but never for more than $22 on any one bill. Sometimes the amount for this unknown charge was under $1.

As a customer already angry over the high cost of “water disposal” by this company, I called NJAWC on Sept. 18. My wife had previously spoken to a representative a week or so before my call. Her call ended in frustration and with no acceptable explanation about the additional sewer charges. My wife asked for copies of previous bills and they were sent to her.

With my last five quarterly bills in hand, I spoke to Sabrina (NJAWC does not allow its representatives to provide full names) and explained my concern over the mysterious additional wastewater charges. She could not answer my specific questions, but agreed that the charges seemed odd based on my previous bills.

She ordered an investigation and told me NJAWC would get back to me. She offered to extend the payment deadline while my inquiry was being investigated. In good faith, we decided to pay the entire bill, expecting that an adjustment would be made to the next bill once the situation

was “rectified.”

On Nov. 3, I received a letter dated Oct. 29, which very matter-of-factly stated, “We have investigated your concerns and determined that your charges and account balance are correct.” That was it. No additional explanation whatsoever. That was their simplistic response after 42 days of investigation. Of course, that non-explanation just made me more crazy.

On Nov. 6, I called NJAWC and spoke to Amelia and repeated my story, this time with a more intense, but still courteous tone. I referred to the letter I had received and told her it was an unacceptable response. She said she understood and checked some of the bills my neighbors had received for that same period. They got dinged for the same unexplained charge as well. I again asked for a specific explanation and why it was so much higher than any of my previous five quarterly bills.

She did tell me that the additional charge was a pass-through charge by NJAWC for additional expenses the company had incurred in processing the wastewater. She could not answer why the charge was so high. When I asked why there was no notification or explanation of an expected large increase in our bill, she could not answer that.

I then eventually spoke to a sub-supervisor named Linda, went through my entire litany again, and was met again with an “I can’t really explain it” response. Linda was as pleasant as the other reps I had spoken with, but could still not provide an acceptable response.

She then advised me I should contact either the Lakewood sewer authority or the Adelphia sewer authority to see if they could provide a better response. By the way, she could not supply me with a phone number to either entity. She also said she was going to look into my case further and get back to me. I have not been contacted since.

Is this insane or what? After all my time and efforts, I am sent packing to find my answer somewhere other than the company that is charging me.

Am I the only one in Howell that thinks this is not the way to run a business or treat a customer? Seems like NJAWC would rather treat its customers like indentured servants rather than as paying customers. We have a right to know why our water company feels empowered to pass along its unanticipated, additional operational expenses to us without explanation.

I sure would like to hear what our Howell government representatives think about this. How about all the other hardworking residents of the many communities in Howell that are suffering under the dictatorship of NJAWC?

Let me hear from you, too. Isn’t it time we set a fire under our water company and stop this nonsense once and for all?

Thank God, NJAWC doesn’t have a monopoly on air, too. If they did, we’d be suffocating as well as drowning due to their “unknown, unexplained non-service” charges.

James J.Gerard is a resident of Howell.