City claims KOB stirs public ‘turmoil’ as man fights high water bill

Posted at: 01/21/2014 11:07 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The city manager in Belen told a man that the media “will report whatever may bring turmoil to the public” when 4 On Your Side questioned the city over his high water bills.

The city still claims John Bodenheimer used 33,500 gallons of water in 28 days at his small home in September.

“I would have a flood, my neighbors would be flooded,” he said.

In December, Bodenheimer received a bill claiming he used roughly 730,000 gallons of water in November.  At the time, a worker in the city’s water department told 4 On Your Side that a clerical error was responsible for the high bill.

Regarding the September bill, City Manager Lucy Baca wrote a letter to Bodenheimer last week.  She explained that “high usage usually means water leaks.”  She explained that he must’ve made plumbing repairs “because the usage dropped considerably.”

Indeed, city records show that Bodenheimer used just 500 gallons the month after he received the 33,500-gallon bill.  But he said he never made a single plumbing repair because a plumber inspected the home and could not find a leak inside or outside.  He also said there’s no evidence that any of his toilets or faucets malfunctioned.

"I told [the city], I said there was no leak, there were no repairs done, there should have been no reason the water was up that high,” Bodenheimer said.

Assuming Bodenheimer had a leak, he would have used roughly eight-tenths of a gallon of water every minute during that 28-day period – roughly 1,100 gallons per day.

He voiced his concerns with the city yet again at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

4 On Your Side confronted Baca at the meeting after she told Bodenheimer in her letter that the “media will report whatever may bring turmoil to the public.”  Baca and other city leaders have dodged questions from 4 On Your Side at city hall and over the phone.

“We’re still checking on it,” Baca said at the meeting.

She acknowledged the city will reexamine Bodenheimer’s claims.

“I can’t say much because we’re researching it.  I don’t know what all is going on,” Baca said.

Earlier Tuesday afternoon, Baca explained to 4 On Your Side via e-mail that Bodenheimer’s water meter registered water leaks in October.  Yet just days after 4 On Your Side first presented the man’s story in December, the city replaced his water meter.

“Not because it was faulty,” she said in the e-mail.  She claims the city’s been replacing old water meters with new ones all over town.

Although it’s not a closed case yet, Bodenheimer believes he has enough evidence to prove that the city improperly billed him.

“I shouldn’t have to pay out of my pocket for something I didn’t use,” he said.