Unexpectedly high water bills cause alarm for Kansas City families

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Folks around the metro are still trying to find answers after a mysterious spike in their water rates. It`s an issue FOX 4 News continues to investigate. Water rates went up in May of 2016 for KCMO customers, and that`s the only increase a spokesperson says was authorized.

Meanwhile, dozens of residents say their checkbooks are taking a hit. A Kansas City homeowner named Raegan told FOX 4 her family may have to give up groceries for a month to help pay the water bill.

"That amount of money for water is just 100 dollars less than our mortgage payment," Raegan explained.

She has a large family and a husband who`s a disabled veteran, so the family is on a fixed-income. That`s why she became frantic after getting a water bill in the mail for more than $700.

"You automatically think, 'oh my gosh, maybe I have leak somewhere in my house.' And that`s exactly what we were told when we called the water department," said Raegan, who also says a leak was never found.

FOX 4 compared three of her water bills, all which all included fees for water, wastewater, and storm water service and usage charges. In January of last year her total bill was about $326. It jumped to about $440 when she used her above ground pool last June, but went back down to just over $300 the following month.

However, out of nowhere it more than doubled between December and January. Raegan says the city has given her no real answers.

"You feel like you don`t have anyone to turn to because are you going to go to a different water department? You know that`s not going to happen," said Raegan.

In Gladstone, Clifford Couch says he got a bill for more than six-times what he`s used to paying.

"It was a shock. I about had a heart attack just looking at it. I could believe the bill was that much,” said Couch.

He says he usually pays about $40 for his water bill, but recently got one for about $274. He thinks a faulty basement toilet could be to blame, but will be monitoring his next bill before contacting the city.

Raegan and Clifford aren`t alone. Three-quarters of the appointments that the Northland Metro Lutheran Ministry office took last week were from people needing help paying unexpectedly high water bills.

"Most of our bills are gas or electric. Water just never has been an issue," said coordinator Jeani Wells. She says the ministry does what it can to help people for now, but it`s temporary.

"You can`t go there every month, meanwhile the bill just keep going and going and going,” said Wells.

While the Kansas City Water Department has offered no explanation for the sudden random increase, Wells offered a possible explanation.

"I`m thinking maybe it's because the neighborhoods are really old, and the pipes underneath might be rusting out," said Wells.

FOX 4 has reached out to the water department and were told it couldn't comment on individual bills, and that each spike would need to be looked into individually.

Wells says if an old pipe is on the resident`s property and it needs work, the resident will have to pay to have it fixed, meaning he or she will have to choose between that expense, or the increased bill.