Why Pay More? It’s Our Policy
(Originally Published in the San Diego Reader October 3, 2012.)
On Wednesday, August 8, Ellen James (not her real name) sat down at the desk in her Scripps Ranch home and paid her $150 water bill online, something she’d done a hundred times before. Only, this time she forgot to transfer the money into the proper account. On Thursday morning, she received a notice of insufficient funds from the bank. Realizing her error, James transferred $157 into the account from which the payment would be withdrawn.
“I assumed they would just put it through again,” she tells me over the phone. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t put it through again.”
On Friday afternoon, just as James was coming out of the shower, her son answered the door to find a San Diego Water Department employee, who said that he’d just shut off their water. James ran outside to flag him down, but he was already gone. Checking online, she saw that the money still sat in her bank account. Immediately, she logged in to the Customer Care Center on the City of San Diego website and paid the bill again, this time including the requisite $30 shut-off-order processing fee.
“At that point, I called them and said, ‘You can’t leave me at home with kids and no water. The money is sitting there,’” she says. “They said, ‘We understand,’ and at 6:00 that night, we got our water back.”
On Monday morning, James received a notice in the mail stating that she was required to pay a security deposit of almost $350. The notice surprised and infuriated her. She and her family had been living in the same house for 17 years, and though they had on occasion been late with a payment, they’d never been delinquent.
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