DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — People in Durham are getting answers after many of their water bills suddenly spiked. 

One customer had an extra $800 added to hers out of nowhere. 

More than 3,000 customers were affected by this problem where their bill may have suddenly not added up with past ones. 

CBS 17 learned that, for the time being, they won’t be expected to pay it back right away. 

“There were good intentions but not proper protocol and procedures in place,” said Don Greeley, Director of Durham Department of Water Management. Greeley said they realized at the end of last year there was a problem with customers’ water bills. 

More than 3,000 water meters had been estimated for more than two months at a time.

More than 900 of those accounts were estimated for more than a year. This means their bill was based on an average of past usage.

That led to hundreds people being under-billed for months. 

Many customers suddenly had a drastically high payment when the city calculated their real usage.

“Our team takes full responsibility for failing to ensure all affected customers were contacted,” said Greeley.

He said customers had an “E” written on their bill if it was estimated and an “A” if it was actual. An explanation for what that meant was on the back.

“We should’ve done a better job communicating,” said council member Mark Middleton. 

The city said it didn’t have the resources or protocols in place to make sure water bills weren’t being estimated for lengthy periods of time. 

Meters are estimated when there are issues like battery failure, a cut chord or signal interference. 

“Estimation is not a choice, it’s a consequence,” said Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson.

The city said it’s since retrained its staff, is reallocating resources, and has set billing estimations to have a two-month limit. 

“I feel pretty confident we’ll be able to put policies, procedures, and resources in place to be able to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Greeley.

He said there are state statutes and city ordinances that could keep the city from being able to wipe away the sudden costs for customers. 

They’re suspending all back-billing for the time being and are exploring options on how to alleviate the issues. 

Water management representatives expect to be back in front of city council within the next two months to go over their plan.

Regarding customers who said they also had water billing issues in 2009 and 2010, Don Greely with the Department of Water Management released the following statement to CBS 17:

In 2009/2010 we did notify customers in one district about the possibility of inaccuracies in their bills for a couple of billing cycles. This was prior to the installation of Automated Meter Readers in late 2010, when meters were read by readers walking routes and recording meter readings into a hand-held recording device. In this case, the readings were falsified over the course of 4 – 5 months for routes assigned to a one individual. Once the issue was discovered, the employee was terminated, a letter was sent, the meters were read and customers were billed correctly to reflect their actual usage.

Don Greely, Director of the Department of Water Management

Contact Durham One Call if you have questions or need help. 

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