Carroll officials said last week they will make changes to ensure that residents on two Eldersburg streets are not overbilled again for water service. But other area homeowners say the problem is more widespread.
The county overbilled 23 residents of Frontier and Guthrie courts in Oklahoma Estates, a subdivision off Route 26, for water service in a recent quarter, said Wayne E. Lewns, chief of the Bureau of Utilities.
He and other officials studied the problem in the Freedom Water and Sewer District for two weeks, but could not figure out where the error occurred, he said.
"We cannot come to a concrete solution," Mr. Lewns said.
Residents had received bills for water use in July, August and September that showed they used thousands of gallons more than they actually had, he said.
The meter reader could have made a mistake or there might have been a malfunction in the computer that processed the readings, Mr. Lewns said.
Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said the commissioners met with Mr. Lewns last week to discuss the situation. Mr. Lippy said it made him "uneasy" that officials could not say why the overbilling occurred.
"I've asked for continued monitoring in the Freedom area," he said. "It behooves us to keep an eye on things. We don't want to charge anyone one penny more than we should.
"If we haven't solved the problem, at least we're aware of it, and at least we have taken steps," Mr. Lippy added.
The county has agreed to replace the residents' water meters with meters read by a computerized wand, Mr. Lewns said.
Currently, the meter reader punches numbers from the meters into a hand-held computer, which is downloaded into a county computer that prints a report, he said.
The wand will eliminate the need to punch in numbers by hand.
"I can't say the [current] meters are bad, but as a precaution, we're going to change them to make sure whatever happened doesn't happen again," Mr. Lewns said.
The county had intended to replace the meters with the updated technology anyway.
The Bureau of Utilities has gradually been replacing meters in the Freedom District.
Conversion in the Oklahoma Estates area could begin as early as this week, Mr. Lewns said.
The county had about 50 new meters in stock, he said.
Residents will receive new bills based on readings taken Oct. 6, he said.
Bills will be adjusted to correct for the erroneous readings.
Bills should be issued by the end of next week, said Al W. Balchunas, chief of the Bureau of Accounting.
Carol Roberts, who lives in the 6200 block of Frontier Court, said last week that she watched a county employee read her meter Oct. 6.
The reading showed her family had used 11,000 gallons of water more than it had, she said.
She said she is not sure the new meters will eliminate the problem. In some places, meters for more than one home are grouped together, which could lead to errors, she said.
"I'm still gonna check [my meter] because I'm not totally convinced," Mrs. Roberts said.
Carroll Public Works Director Keith R. Kirschnick said that in the next quarter his employees will manually spot-check readings taken at about 5 percent of homes on the route that includes Frontier and Guthrie courts.
Some residents who live just north of the two streets said the county should continue to study the situation because their bills are high, too.
Carol Rankin and Arlene Ault, who both live in the 2100 block of Tulsa Road, said their water bills for the past quarter showed their usage was at least double what it was a year ago.
"They can't say [the problem] is limited to two streets," Mrs. Rankin said. "I'd like an answer, and they can't give me an answer."
Her water and sewer bill that was due in October 1992 showed her family had used 26,270 gallons of water in the previous quarter, she said.
A bill due this October showed they had used 54,670 gallons, or 28,400 gallons more than they had in the same quarter the year before.
The October 1992 bill was $65; this year's bill was $166, she said.
This year's bill includes a rate increase that took effect July 1. The county raised a fixed charge for debt on the water/sewer system from $15.59 to $17.97 and raised the residential usage charge from 95 cents per 1,000 gallons to $1.30 per 1,000 gallons.
Ms. Ault said her bills showed a discrepancy similar to Mrs. Rankin's.
Mr. Kirschnick said last week that he had not heard specific complaints from residents on Tulsa Road or other streets in the neighborhood.
He said that Mrs. Rankin's most recent bill seemed out of line.
He suggested that she and others who think their bills are high call the county comptroller's office at 857-2085 to find out if there was a billing error.
If there was an error, a utilities employee will read the meter again, and the bill will be adjusted, he said.
Comptroller Eugene C. Curfman said residents should not pay their bills until any questions are settled.