Mansfield News

Water bill surges cause wave of discontent

Joe Smolinski, director of utilities, and Adam Schrack go over Schrack’s water bills.
Joe Smolinski, director of utilities, and Adam Schrack go over Schrack’s water bills. News-Mirror

Carlos and Sara Jaramillo love the Dallas Cowboys and their new house in Mansfield. They do not love their last water bill.

The Jaramillos are part of a wave of North Texans that opened their monthly utility bills and got sticker shock. Sara Jaramillo, a Mansfield elementary school teacher, was stunned to see her bill rise from $80 to $143.16 in August. And she had no idea why, nor did the flood of homeowners from across the area who took to social media to send up distress calls.

Homeowners reported surging costs, some -- like the Jaramillos -- almost double their regular bill.

Joe Smolinski, Mansfield’s director of utilities, says he knew the bills were about to rise, but what he didn’t predict were the waves of shock from his customers.

“We were looking at near record production at the water treatment plant,” Smolinski said. “We could see it coming. But we didn’t anticipate people’s reactions.”

In an attempt to stem the torrent of upset customers, Smolinski agreed to meet with some Mansfield homeowners, check their homes for leaks, replace their water meters with new ones and test the old meters for accuracy -- with a News-Mirror reporter present. We agreed to report the findings, whether they favored the homeowner or the city. If the meter was found to be inaccurate, the homeowners would be refunded the overcharge.

The Jaramillos recently moved into their new home, relocating from a home in downtown Mansfield. Their old home didn’t have an irrigation system, but their new one does. Their first bill at the new house was about $20 more than at their old one, Sara Jaramillo said, which she attributed to the sprinkler system. But when the August bill arrived, she couldn’t see where the water was going, especially since she and her husband had been out of town for a week. The couple used 16,270 gallons of water from June 23-July 27, but only 2,730 gallons from May 23-June 23.

Smolinski did understand, and he showed her. He ran a report that broke down the Jaramillos’ daily water use, showing the family either used approximately 1,000 gallons or 100 gallons.

Irrigation specialist David Moulton helped explain that. After examining their irrigation system, he deducing that the Jaramillos use 1,009 gallons every time they run the sprinklers.

Mansfield charges $3.09 per 1,000 gallons of water, and $3.01 per 1,000 gallons of sewage. In October, the Tarrant Regional Water District will increase the cost per 1,000 gallons by 11 cents and the cost for sewage by 16 cents per 1,000 gallons. Mansfield has not raised its cost for water and sewage service in five years, Smolinski said.

“We cannot meter sewer flow,” Smolinski explained. “What we assume is based on water consumption. We no longer charge for anything above 12,000 gallons.”

So what about the week that the Jaramillos were out of town? Their water usage was close to 2,000 gallons per day, the report shows. The irrigation system ran twice a day that week at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Smolinski says after pulling an hourly report.

The good news is that the Jaramillos do not have a leak in their water system, which could have been very expensive to repair. Their meter, which was removed and replaced by meter technician Justin Bradford, also tested as accurate. The bad news is that next month’s bill will be even higher. The Jaramillos used 26,820 gallons in the past 30 days, which will send their bill up to about $170.

“I budget for a higher electricity bill in the summer, but not really for water,” Sara Jaramillo said. “I can think of a lot of things that I would rather spend money on.”

The Jaramillos are not alone, Smolinski said. After torrential rains in May and early June, the natural waterworks stopped and lush lawns began to get crunchy. Plus, Stage 1 water restrictions, which mandated only twice-a-week irrigation, were lifted in May, so people were able to water as much as they wanted, he said.

Smolinski knows that the calls are going to keep coming, too. August had the third highest water production in the treatment center’s history, he said, with 649,660,000 gallons, trailing August 2011 with 675,287,000 gallons and July 2011 with 652,509,000 gallons.

“With all the complaints we’re getting now, next month will probably be worse,” he said.

Still, he welcomes the calls, Smolinski said.

“If your bill has gone up significantly, you should have us check,” he said.

Adam Schrack became curious after seeing the monthly surges of water use on his utility bill, so he asked to have his meter and bill checked.

After Smolinski saw Schrack’s bill, he was puzzled, too.

“I’m a little concerned about the graph,” he said. “You are incredibly consistent, but that does not represent the graph.”

What was even more surprising was that Schrack’s bill was higher in May than it was last month -- and his system has a freeze and rain sensor that shuts off the sprinklers when it rains or gets close to freezing.

The utility department team went to work, replacing his water meter, checking his bill and his irrigation system. Schrack uses 2,300 gallons of water every time his irrigation system runs, Moulton discovered. And he runs his system every Sunday and Wednesday at 5 a.m., Smolinski told him, and Schrack confirmed “just like church,” he laughed. They also found that he has no leaks in his water system and that his meter had been accurate.

But his rain and freeze sensor was not connected to his irrigation system, so even though it was working, it wasn’t turning off his sprinklers. Moulton connected the sensor to the irrigation system.

Schrack said the assessment was enlightening.

“I’m going to reconfigure my system,” he said. “What we’ve been paying isn’t so bad, I was just curious about the fluctuations in the chart.”

The fluctuations were not as dramatic as the graph made them appear, he said, and recommended Smolinski consider changing the chart system.

“I feel much more confident, knowing I can call you anytime,” Schrack told him.

Anyone with questions about their water bill should call Jeff Price at the utility department at 817-477-1210.

For information about a Mansfield water bill, contact Jeff Price at the utility department at 817-477-1210.