Northwest NEWS

August 16, 1999

Front Page

Northshore widow paid high water bill for 14 years

by Marshall Haley, staff reporter

   WOODINVILLE--Dorothy Gray was overcharged the equivalent of nearly $7,000 on her water bill over a 14-year period, according to suits filed by her heirs against the Woodinville Water District and the City of Bothell. The suit amount includes 12 percent of the actual overcharges, adjusted by Gray's heirs to match rising inflation, said Woodinville Water District General Manager Bob Bandarra.

   The suit against Woodinville Water District asks $3,152 for overcharges during 1982-87. The City of Bothell supplied Gray's water after 1987. Banderra does not dispute the overcharge claims. He said the City of Bothell eventually discovered why the overcharges occured, but was uncertain when Gray first complained about them.

   "A couple of our employees who worked here back in the '80s recalled going to Mrs. Gray's house a couple of times, but found no leaks or other obvious causes," said Banderra. "Sometime after Bothell's water deptartment took over, they took the meter into their shop and took it apart. They found that a one-inch register was installed in the three-quarter-inch meter, which should have had a matching three-quarter-inch register. That's what caused the meter to overread the water flow. The inspector said the meter was fairly new, and that the wrong register was probably installed at the factory, since the two sizes look virtually identical."

   "The Seattle Times's editorial [of Aug. 10] made us look bad," said Banderra. "The editorial says, 'The Woodinville Water District and the City of Bothell do every resident a disservice when they shrug off unfairly taken money as water under the bridge.' We do not shrug off issues raised by our customers. The statute of limitations allows for processing of claims up to three years old. Under Washington state law, offering to settle a claim when the statute of limitations has passed would be considered an illegal 'gift of public funds.'

   "The Times failed to grasp what I tried to tell them about the statute of limitations. We actually welcome this lawsuit, because without it, we have no recourse. It's the only way to legally resolve this. We're in a Catch-22 situation. Legally, not only are we not required to pay back the overcharges, we aren't allowed to pay them. Mr. Tanner's (Gray's son) lawsuit challenges the statute of limitations' validity. The first step in resolving this situation is for the judge to rule on that."

   Asked if the Water District had any other recourse for paying back the overcharges, Banderra said the Water District's commissioners would have to address that after the court decision. He said they question the amount of interest the suit has tacked onto the overcharges. He said the suit has cost the Water District's legal fund about $500 so far. The Water District has filed a motion for dismissal of the suit's charges, said Banderra.

   New Bothell Public Works Director John Medina said the City of Bothell issued a $2,500 check to Mrs. Gray's heirs in 1997, but that the check was never cashed. The check covered the City of Bothell's calculation of Gray's overcharges between 1987 and 1996, when the problem was discovered. Medina said the current litigation prevented him from commenting further.