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Lompoc Billing Error Leads To Huge Hike For Mobile Home Park Residents

Meter situation leads to snafu affecting city's Del Norte Mobile Estates

Residents of the Del Norte mobile home park in Lompoc will see a five-fold increase in their sewer rates due to a billing mistake by the city.
Residents of the Del Norte mobile home park in Lompoc will see a five-fold increase in their sewer rates due to a billing mistake by the city. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Residents of a Lompoc mobile home park are irate after leaning a city error, involving undercharging for sewer services over nine months, will lead to bigger bills for the next year. 

Those who live in the 179-unit Del Norte Mobile Estates at 321 W. North Ave. mobilized after receiving a notice from property managers that the added costs would first appear on Aug. 1 bills.

“The city of Lompoc has just informed us that for the last nine months they had been undercharging us for Sewer,” the July 1 notice to residents says. “Due to this mistake, the city is asking to be reimbursed for the difference due over a period of 12 months, effective August 1, 2015.”

Instead of charging $48.09 per month, the city had billed the park residents $15.32 per month for wastewater costs, park managers said.

The new monthly sewer rate will be $53.20, plus another $24.58 that is labeled a sewer adjustment fee, putting the new monthly total at $77.78.

This adds up to a 500-percent hike in sewer fees for those who live in Del Norte.

Residents of the park also learned their trash rate would rise from $20.97 to $22.26, and water will go from $27.27 to $29.32 with a usage rate from $4.02 to $4.33.

Mobile home owners in the park pay a monthly lease for the land. However, water and wastewater meters sit near the front of the park, which is billed for usage and then assesses those who live there.

Recently, residents circulated a petition and held a meeting attended by up to 60 people concerned about the huge hike.

"This is just the start,” said resident Jackie Claycamp, who is one of the organizers of the effort to sort out the dispute. "This is just phase one of this process. In my opinion, the right thing to do is we don't have to pay it. It's their mistake."

While residents may have wanted a conclusion before the rate hikes take effect, Claycamp said it isn’t going to work out that way. 

Instead, she recommended residents pay the amount, rather than be delinquent with the property managers. 

Paying the added amount won’t be easy for the residents, many of whom are on fixed incomes due to being disabled or senior citizens on Social Security, Claycamp said.

To help sort out the problem, Claycamp is requesting copies of the park’s utility bills with other correspondence for the past two years to confirm the city charges and ensure additional fees were not added. 

An employee who answered the phone at Del Norte’s office said the property managers had no comment and referred calls to the city.

“This is their discrepancy,” the woman said before hanging up the phone.

City Manager Patrick Wiemiller said the problem arose because of the rare configuration at the park, which has three meters for the entire site.

"Our automated system attempted to assign a flat billing based on one meter without recognizing the presence of three meters,” Wiemiller said. “So an incorrect amount that was too low was originally provided to the customer.”

The problem was originally discovered in August 2014 but was fixed, and the customer was provided the correct billing amount, Wiemiller said.

“At some point, the automated system reverted to its erroneous read and the problem was rediscovered in May 2015," Wiemiller said.

Del Norte, like many other older multi-family residential developments, was designed and built to have a single account for water and sewer services. At the time, water was not as critical an issue in California as it is today, Wiemiller said.

Customers, whether in the private or public sector, are required to pay for goods and services, even when under-billed and then correctly billed, Wiemiller said.

“A customer not paying its fair share would mean that other customers would have to pay more than their fair share to make up the difference, which would be neither legal nor ethical," Wiemiller said.

To prevent a reoccurrence of the billing problem, city staff will manually monitor the Del Norte account and others with multiple meters, Wiemiller said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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