An elderly woman said she may be forced to move out of her home after a mistake made by Gainesville Regional Utilities caused an unexpected increase on her bill.
Nancy Hendler, 61, has lived in her home since 1991 and said she has never had an issue with GRU until this year. In March, she received a letter from GRU stating that a billing error led to her not being charged for wastewater services for a year.
To correct the error, GRU sent her an adjusted bill for more than $700, she said.
“I’m on disability income, and I cannot afford to pay back a year,” Hendler said.
Hendler is one of about 120 GRU customers who were identified as receiving wastewater services that they were not paying for, said Debbie Daugherty, the acting director of water and wastewater engineering.
Daugherty said GRU is auditing its wastewater billing system. If the billing data is not consistent, the account is selected for additional research. Once the inspection of the property is complete and the billing error is confirmed, the billing system is corrected.
“In accordance with GRU policy, the customer will also receive a billing adjustment for the services provided over the last 12 months,” Daugherty said.
Hendler said she may have to move because she doesn’t have enough money budgeted to pay for the wastewater fees. GRU offered her an 18-month payment plan through its Budget Pay system.
But Hendler said she her bill increased from $130 a month to more than $200 a month. On a fixed income, she does not have the money for any more bills.
“I can’t afford to move, but I can’t afford to stay here either,” Hendler said.
Hendler said if she does not pay the bill, her electricity will be shut off.
“I need electricity because I have a breathing machine that I use every night,” Hendler said.
If Hendler decides to move, she will still be responsible for paying the bill.
Hendler said she reached out to District 4 City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who said he is sympathetic toward Hendler’s situation.
“It’s a very concerning issue,”Hayes-Santos said. “Which is why we need to focus on initiatives that help lower income residents with paying their bills.”
He said he would like to implement a five-tier system that would have lower rates for people who have lower incomes. The five-tier system would assess residents based on the use of his or her power.
Hayes-Santos said a resident should be billed consistently with his or her use of power.