Some water bill complaints in Harrison, Arkansas, take odd turn

HARRISON, Ark. - Tanya Pittman was shocked when she saw her water bill was more than $300 last month. That is almost double what she normally pays.

She lives in a house in Harrison with four other family members, no pool, and said she doesn't water her yard.

Pittman said, "Hopefully I can get some of that money back because I mean we're disabled. I mean my husband's a veteran and we're on a fixed income every month, we can't afford these high bills."

So she decided to check for leaks.

"We went under the house. We looked under the sinks because we've got two bathrooms. We looked at the toilets. We looked everywhere and there's no leaks," Pittman said.

The water department stepped in after we called them, found a problem with the water meter, replaced it, and the mayor said the city is now working on refunding her some of the money.

Mayor Dan Sherrell said, “We had new meters put in about six years ago, and with 7,000 meters, do you have an issue? Yeah every once in a while you have an issue."

And those issues have poured into KY3 over the past few weeks: emails, messages, letters, even a Facebook page with complaints about Harrison water bills.

Also keep in mind these bills aren’t just for water: They're sewer and trash as well.

On Facebook a woman said her bill was significantly higher than normal. The water department said they are monitoring her water usage.

Another woman sent us a letter and said her bill went up $20. The water department said that’s not unusual but adjusted her bill anyway.

But for six of the others, things didn’t turn out as well.

They sent us emails, letters and made complaints on Facebook about their water bill. But we started digging, and all six of those people have something else in common.

We can’t find any proof they actually live in Harrison.

If they gave us contact information, we emailed or messaged each one asking for a copy of their bill. If they responded promising they’d send it, they never did.

So we went to the city water department, an employee looked up their names: Larry Low, Sammi Payne, Lori Lee Davis, Ann Summers, Mary Wales, and Stan Baum.

They also did not show up on Google or Lexis Nexis, a website we pay for to find people.

So we went to Facebook.

I "friended” Sammi Payne. She later changed her name on her page, and said she lives in Branson. When I started asking her questions, she deleted her page.

I “friended” Larry Low. One of his posts from two years ago shows a picture of a woman climbing a mountain with the caption “Happy 38th anniversary.”

We found that same image in an article about this woman passing away hiking a year before the anniversary post, and no mention of “Larry Low”.

And now, after we started asking questions, Larry Low deleted his page.

Lori Lee said she rents from her parents, and lives in Rogers too. She would not give us more information, including her bill.

Only Stan Baum later admitted he didn’t live in Harrison.

Sherrell said, “If they send me an email and do not give me a correct name or address - there’s no way in the world we can check this out.”

One Facebook “poster” suggested they would feel better as a group. So we set it up. The only requirement was you had to show us a copy of your bill.

We waited for an hour and two people showed up with legitimate water bills.

Neither one wanted to go on camera, and they had never called the water department to complain.

Others who couldn’t make the meeting sent us their bills. Most of them were under $100.

They also weren’t any of the six we mentioned earlier.

So what should your bills be? In the U.S. an average person uses 2,400 to 3,000 gallons of water a month. That’s just one person, that would put just your water at $15 to $18 a month.

And January there was a raise: five cents per every 1,000 gallons.

We called around and other cities are similar, like Mountain Home.

Harrison’s mayor said call if you are concerned about your bill.

Sherrell said, "If you've got a problem with your water, we're going to try to find out what the problem is."

That’s what Tanya Pittman and several others did, and they got results.

She said, "I'm actually really relieved because in the case of the water, that was taking food out of my freezer for my children. It was taking one bill not getting paid. It was robbing Peter to pay Paul. So now I can pay those bills."

We also checked, and none of the people upset about their bills have gone to any city council meetings to speak about it either. They are all open to the public and you can sign up to speak.