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High water bills a mystery in north Meck Co

A rash of unusually high utility bills has created a furor in north Mecklenburg County, and so far utility officials say they don't know what's causing the problem. Debbie Barteldt and her husband have a house in Davidson with a medium-sized yard. And they have two small kids who, she says, usually share a bathtub. So, she says their water bill is typically $40 a month. When they water the lawn in the summer, the bill might double, but certainly not quintuple. "So to get the $250 bill, I was a like 'Whoa! That's not right!'" says Barteldt. That was August. September's bill was $230. Then October went to $100, and now Barteldt says it's back to $47 . . all at a time when the family's water usage changed very little. Dozens of other water users in north Mecklenburg County have reported similar unexplained spikes in their water bills. Many suspect faulty water meters, since they've found no evidence of major leaks. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities spokesman Vic Simpson says the department is investigating each incident but has so far turned up only one meter problem. A rate increase that went into effect in July may be partly to blame, as well. But Simpson says, "you really would not expect to see that big a jump unless the usage is there is terms of water use." Last week the utilities department met with residents in Cornelius and Davidson and pledged to continue investigating the billing anomalies. Simpson says metering problems are rare for the utilities department in a system of more than 240,000 meters. But he says if the city finds it made a mistake, the customers will be compensated for the money they overpaid. Cornelius Town Mayor Jeff Tarte says the are organizing their own investigation to make sure they get answers. "There will be people who have engineering background, people with very strong management consulting background and problem solving skills trying to look at it as a puzzle until we can determine the root cause," says Tarte. The citizens' investigation will collaborate with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities, but Tarte says it's important for the results to be independent in order for residents to trust the outcome.