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City working to fix free water issues
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McMinnville Water Department director Anthony Pelham is attempting to solve lost revenue problems within his department and has found two customers who were receiving free services.
Pelham informed members of the city Water and Sewer Committee on Tuesday he has found two billing issues, with one customer never receiving a bill in approximately nine years, and a second customer receiving a minimum bill but not one for water being used. 
“I was initially concerned there was something inappropriate going on, but it doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Pelham. “Instead, it was a customer in a complex with one unit that had never received a bill. We found that. We feel like we put that to bed. My understanding TCA code 28-3302, if I’m not mistaken, allows a three-year time limit we would be able to go back.”
The customer, whose name is being withheld, was hooked onto the city’s system in the spring of 2007. By law, the city can go back three years in recouping its losses.
“I have been able to identify what that three-year period is,” said Pelham. “I have presented the information to the owner of the complex and he seems to be willing to settle that up. To put that in context of money, if you talk about water and sewer and everything, he’s received in excess of $6,600 worth of service and when I look at the three-year value that we are pursuing, it’s a little over $2,500. From here forward, he understands we are going to correct that.”
Pelham said he has failed in an attempt to figure out who dropped the ball at that time, but he has set measures in place to prevent it in the future.
“I’ve tracked it through our system and found all the paperwork and work orders and documentation,” he said. “I can tell you the date it was set, who set it and who signed the work order. It fell through the cracks after that. I can’t tell you why that happened within our system but I very clearly set chain of command and chain of custody now on how work comes in and goes out. If it happens again, I will be able to tell you who dropped the ball and I will deal with it.”
The second customer received free services due to the wrong radio frequency associated with the electronic meter and when the meter was read electronically, it did not register a usage and the customer was sent a minimum bill of $6.59 per month, says Pelham.
“Since 2011, this customer has received a minimum bill. There is a $6 minimum, plus tax, for water and a $6 minimum on sewer. When no water is used, the bill is $12.59 for water and sewer. This one was actually an irrigation meter so they only had to pay water. They got a bill for $6.59 per month, because the radio frequency was off by one digit.”
In actuality, the customer received almost 700,000 gallons of water before the error was found. While the charge would have been approximately $4,000, the state’s restriction on going back three years allows the city to recoup approximately $2,000.
“Once again, the owner of that account has expressed verbally their willingness to resolve it,” said Pelham. “I just wanted to report that. We do have a couple other anomalies in our sights and I’ve put staff clearly on notice. If they see anything that’s out of line or out of place, let me know and we’ll address those quickly and clearly.”
The revenue issues within the department were brought to the city’s attention by Bill Brock, current city administrator, in 2014. At that time, he encouraged hiring someone who could figure out why the department is producing water that it cannot account for in revenue. Pelham was hired in January 2016.