A San Diego man's horror turned to relief after what he thought was a $1,000 water bill turned out to be the opposite - a credit.
Bill Neubach, of El Cerrito, had been paying the city's Public Utilities Department a steady $285 per cycle for nearly six years. He chose that amount because it matched the first paper bill he got when he moved into his home in 2013.
But Neubach says the city stopped sending him paper bills, and he could never get through to the customer service department - hanging up after long holds. So, he set his bank to send the city that same check each cycle and assumed that amount was correct.
"I would try to call but I could never get through and that frustration, I thought, 'ya know what, my water isn’t being shut off,'" Neubach said. "I’m not getting a red flag envelope in the mail from the city of San Diego, so I just kept paying."
The city is reforming its public utilities customer service in the wake of a scathing audit that came out last year. It found that thousands of residents got erroneous bills, and could not get through to customer service. Part of those reforms, it appears, is to send email updates to customers.
Neubach got one on April 13 that he took to mean he owed the city $1,068.77:
This time, Neubach called customer service and got through within three minutes. That's when he heard the opposite news.
"She said, 'this is quite common, you actually have a credit for $1,000,'" Neubach said. "She just said that a lot of people misread or can't understand what the bill is when we send it to them, especially electronically like that."
Neubach said the city would be sending him a check for what he is owed. He is also working to set up direct online access to avoid this situation in the future.
A city spokesman says the city understands its bills could be clearer and is reviewing how they are presented. He said staff was reviewing how common this situation is.