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St. Joseph Couple Fighting $1,600 Water Bill

A St. Joseph couple is shocked after receiving a $1,600 water bill. They say the response they received from the water company after questioning the bill was almost as surprising.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Rodney Cundiff might think twice the next time he gets a glass of water out of the tap.

"Where we had been averaging a $22 to $25 bill, here was a water bill where they wanted $1,600," Cundiff said.

Cundiff's eyes didn't deceive him. It was a $1,600 bill, and Missouri American Water was demanding payment. The paperwork said Cundiff and his wife Deborah had used 329,000 gallons of water during the past month.

"This was just so uncharacteristic," he said. "I thought there was an egregious mistake and they were not willing to take responsibility for it."

To put the water usage in perspective, a normal faucet runs at about 2.5 gallons per water per minute. The water company said the Cundiffs had used, in one month, the equivalent of a continuously running water faucet every minute of every day for nearly three months.

They made call after call to Missouri American Water. Representatives told the Cundiffs they had to pay.

"It's like, well, we've heard this before," Cundiff said. "It's your fault. They made you feel like you're a criminal or why are you calling here because we can not be wrong. You must have a leak, you must have something wrong on your end. You must pay this bill."

Cundiff enlisted a master plumber to check for a leak. The pipes received a clean bill of health.

"There is no leak," said Stephan Balogh of Contractors Plumbing Service. "If there was a leak between the meter and the house, it would show up."

Cundiff reported the news to Missouri American Water, but he says they were not receptive.

"They seemed to have a script they would repeat. This is your responsibility. You must pay this bill. This could take up to six months to resolve," he said.

Cundiff's back and forth with the utility lasted for several weeks.

"It made you feel powerless against a company that you know has millions of customers and has a large database of information," he said. "You are not made to feel like a person with a legitimate complaint."

Missouri American would not talk to KQ2 on camera. They said their customers' bills are a matter of privacy.

However, finally some good news for Cundiff this week. We don't know if it was prompted by Cundiff complaining to the Missouri Public Service Commission or his reaching out to KQ2, but Missouri American now says they will promptly have the issue resolved.

Deborah Cundiff has watched her husband of 28 years tackle this billing error as a project. She knew they had messed with the wrong man.

"If he's passionate about it and he feels he's right, he'll dig in and research it," Deborah said. "He usually comes out with the answers and gets his stuff solved."

Rodney is glad he had the time and motivation to try and fix the billing problem.

"I have found that knowledge is power," he said. "I've been willing to take the time to investigate situations like this."

As of Tuesday night, the Cundiff's account with Missouri American had been suspended. Rodney says he's been told he doesn't have to pay the $1,600 bill for now and the water company will not be turning off his service.
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