Florence residents upset, seeking answers about high water bills

FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - A surge in water bills has multiple West Florence communities outraged.

Residents reached out to WMBF News saying they've been experiencing drastic increases in their water bills for the past several months, some even years.

Diane Basile, who lives with her husband and two sons, said her problem started back in September when her bill read $618.

She said she usually uses around 5,000 gallons of water, averaging around $100 every month.

This year in February, Basile received her typical bill of around $100. This past month, it shot back up to $366. She later got the water bill fixed to $99.

"It said we used 37,000 gallons in less than 30 days," Basile said.

Basile's not the only one with water woes. Many residents in the area expressed their concerns with each other on the app Nextdoor.

Over 70 comments from residents in Hampton Pointe, The Meadows, White Hall Shores, Grove Park, Vintage Place and several other neighborhoods said they saw the same spike in their water bills this month as Basile.

"That's when everybody around the neighborhood exploded because some people were charged $1,000, some people were charged $500," Basile said.

County collections manager Tom Shearin admits some inconsistencies have occurred in water bills. He cites their estimating system as the reason.

Instead of physically reading water meters, every other month the department uses a computerized estimate.

"We now determined that there is a bug, if you will, in the estimation software. That's why it spikes, go back down, then spike, go back down," Shearin said. "So that would contribute to that also."

Shearin added the department started seeing problems after switching over to a new meter system last September. It was around the same time Basile began noticing the spike in her water bill.

"Any time you take data from a system that was written back in the late 70s to now, you're going to have some issues with that," Shearin said.

Right now, Shearin says the county is working on a $500,000, 12-month contract with an outside company that will read meters every month, thereby doing away with estimations.

He said the outside company specializes in reading gas, sewage and water meters.

"It will benefit us with two things; reading every month is the most efficient way, plus also it will allow us to get current data into the new system," Shearin said.

Shearin urges anyone experiencing a water bill issue to contact the Florence County Water Department.

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