PORTLAND, Ore. — A shocking utility bill has a Portland couple outraged and confused.
The Wallens were slapped with a $5,000 water bill early last year. According to their Portland Water Bureau bill, the Wallens used 270,000 gallons of water in a quarter, which is just a few months.
But they feel it's a mistake.
“I didn't do anything wrong,” Michael Wallen told KGW.
The Wallens were horrified to find an exorbitant invoice in their inbox last February.
“It was $5,454.45 in February. Then they supposedly waived half,” Michael said.
They subsequently shut the water off at the property a month or so later, and moved back to the house they’ve owned since 2011 and were renting out.
The next bill they received was in May for about $3,800.
Fast forward to a year later; just the other day a letter came in the mail from the water bureau, explaining they were meshing the Wallens’ two accounts into one and charging them nearly $5,000.
“They were still charging me every quarter even though I said please shut off the water,” Michael said. “It infuriates me.”
The couple said they were told if they don't pay something their water will be shut off June 21.
Michael said he can't afford that while living on a fixed disability income. In his and his wife's eyes, the Portland Water Bureau messed up.
"[I told them] you're completely wrong about drawing 270,000 gallons of water that quarter," he said. "I dispute this, you're never going to see a dime of this money. I can't afford it anyway.”
But the Water Bureau said it wasn't a mistake. The Wallens had a leaky toilet, one they couldn't pay to fix right away.
"Ninety days non-stop without me noticing anything other than ‘sss’: the sound your toilet makes when it's not finished filling," Michael said. "They read the meter after we repaired the toilet and shut off flow just to be sure. And they said now the meter is not drawing any water, so it must have been the toilet."
KGW's Morgan Romero called around to local plumbers who say 3,000 gallons of water a day is a massive leak. But it’s not impossible or improbable. They say that's why people need to get any leaks fixed right away - if they can afford to.
The water bureau docked the Wallens' bill and offered a payment plan. But for the Wallens, the cost is still too high.
“I'm living on $874 a month. I cannot – even on a payment plan – just no,” he added. “What they're demanding does not leave room for food and electricity.”
The water bureau is working with Michael and told KGW they'll work with people in tricky financial situations so they can afford to pay their bills. The bureau provides leak adjustments, financial assistance, and payment arrangements. They also offer crisis vouchers.
But, again, the Wallens said the deductions still are not enough for low-income people.
By sharing their story, they want to make everyone in Portland, particularly low-income individuals, aware of what happened to them, so people know this is possible.