Sun City Center woman's $1,200 water bill blamed on sprinkler use

-  A Hillsborough County woman says her latest water bill was nearly $1,300 but says there's no way she used that much water. Now, she’s thanking FOX 13 News for getting some answers.

Kathy Woelfel was "very upset" when she first saw the bill at the end of April. Hillsborough County had charged her $1,270.25 for water running to her Sun City Center home.

"It said that I had used over 167,000 gallons of water," said Woelfel. “There is just no way that I could have used that much water."

Woelfel's utility bill is usually around $45 a month. And according to her account, over the last year, she hasn't used more than 4,000 gallons of water per cycle.          

The Hillsborough County Department of Public Works says the massive spike was caused by Woelfel's sprinkler system.

Woelfel hired three companies to come check her home's water supply to make sure there wasn't an unseen leak causing the discrepancy in her bill. All three said there's no apparent leak and they do not agree with the county's sprinkler theory.

"All the people that checked my system told me, 'That's impossible, your yard woulda been flooded, your neighbor’s yards woulda been flooded, and it would be running down the street,'" she said.

Weolfel sent a letter asking for a bill adjustment because of the outrageous water charges, but the department denied the appeal.

"Every time I called them they just said, 'No, it's on your end,' and I just got so frustrated I called you guys,” said Weolfel. “I didn't know where to go, I didn't know where to turn, I didn't know who to ask for help."

FOX 13 brought the issue to the county's attention and officials admit something slipped through the cracks.

"The only issue that we had there was our analysis of her water usage had not come down yet, so I think we really kinda failed on communication," said Public Utilities Division director of enterprise solutions Koni Cassini. 

The department has a bill adjustment policy for customers to have a credit added to their account in situations like this one. In fiscal year 2017, Cassini says 234 applications were received and 87 percent were approved.

Woelfel's meter was inspected and appears to be working properly. Right now, officials still can't explain the outrageously high water bill. However, the county is trying to help find some answers as to why the water usage jumped up.

“It’s an extraordinary amount, I know that we’re working with our customer right now to make sure that we have it under control,” Cassini said.  

Woelfel has her irrigation system turned off right now and plans to closely monitor the meter. In the meantime, Public Utilities adjusted her bill so she only had to pay her normal amount.

"I feel much better,” she said. “I'm still paranoid about getting another high bill, but we'll see."

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