In an ongoing investigation of the Kansas City, MO, Water Services Department, KCTV5 uncovered a brand new billing problem.
Just as the water department promised to create better customer service, residents asked KCTV5 to help them deal with charges for structures without any pipes.
In June 1982, Dallas was the No. 1 show on television, Ronald Reagan was serving his first term in the White House, the Kansas City Royals were winning and Keo Rourick had the water department stop service to her storage building located off on Bannister Road in southeast Kansas City.
According to Rourick's daughter, Janet Rourick, the shut off happened on June 9, 1982. Since then, there has been zero water running to that meter or the outbuilding.
"The only water coming in, like I said, is when it rains or when an animal gets in there and decides he has to go," Janet Rourick said.
For three decades, things went according to plan.
The Rouricks received no water and therefore no water usage bills. The surprise came last week, when the now 83-year-old opened a letter from the water department demanding $5,375.23 for water use.
Keo Rourick said she began to shake as she wondered how she would pay the bill. His daughter then called the water department.
"As far the phone calls are concerned," Janet Rourick said, "Nobody really wanted to listen to what I was saying."
While Janet Rourick was dealing with her mom's $5,300 bill, Justine Underwood-Jones was also on the phone trying to sort out the water bill she had received for a place she plans to renovate on Kansas City's east side.
"The house had been ransacked by copper thieves," Underwood-Jones said, "So it had no wiring, no furnace, no plumbing. So you can imagine I was a little surprised to receive a $60 water bill."
Underwood-Jones says she too found customer service failing to comprehend her problem.
"It was real frustrating to call four or five times and to get the same answer. It's a common sense issue. The home has no plumbing. It can't use water. Why am I getting a water bill?"
The frustrated women contacted KCTV5 News for help.
Investigative reporter Eric Chaloux requested an interview with the water department's top spokesperson, Kip Peterson, to talk about these two particular cases and overall customer service issues. His request did not happen.
However, this is not the first time KCTV5 has addressed customer service frustrations with the water department.
During a September interview, Peterson said that "Historically, we have not provided the best customer service. We are committed to remedying that."
In both these cases, a remedy was quick in coming once KCTV5 got involved. Within a day of passing along those two bizarre billing issues, both accounts were wiped clean.
Peterson responded to those incidents with the following statement.
"Customer Service has been in touch with the two customers and has worked with them to resolve their particular issues. Please let me know if you have any other questions."
Both KCTV5 and Janet Rourick still wondered why the bills were sent out in the first place.
With no one willing to give an answer, Janet Rourick is sending this message to water officials.
"Go collect from the people who really owe water," she said. "Come on. Quit wasting taxpayer dollars on stupidity. This is exactly what it is; stupidity."
On Monday, Kansas City, MO, Water Services announced a staff-restructuring plan it says will better address customer service and budgeting matters for the department.
"Water Services will greatly benefit from the dedicated role and expertise of the members of the new Executive Leadership Team as we embark upon important efforts such as the 5-year Capital Improvement Plan and 25-year Overflow Control Program, implement a new and measurable performance management plan, and work to dramatically improve customer service while meeting the challenges of environmental stewardship," said Terry Leeds, the Director of Water Services in a news release.
If you feel like your Kansas City, MO, water bill issue is not being heard, KCTV5 will keep passing them along for you. Call the Investigative Tip line at 913-576-7555 or send an email to email@example.com.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.