Artesian Resources said it will tone down letters that threatened customers with a possible water shutoff if they did not consent to having out-dated meters replaced.
A spokesman for the Newark water company said the letters, as they are currently written, could be taken as “rude or threatening.” The company decided to modify the letters after customers complained to The News Journal.
Aretsian mailed 2,227 letters informing customers of the need to replace water meters. If the customer did not call and schedule an appointment within 14 days, Artesian sent a second letter claiming it would shut off water within two weeks if an appointment was not made. The letter also said a $100 service charge would be applied to a customer’s account to restore service for anyone who had their water turned off.
The company mailed 1,543 second letters warning of a potential shutoff if a customer did not comply, according to Artesian spokesman Joe DiNunzio. That is roughly 69 percent of the people who received a first a letter. According to Artesian, all but 448 customers made appointments after receiving the second letter. The company called those 448 customers to set up appointments.
Only one customer had their water shut off for not scheduling an appointment, DiNunzio said.
However, some customers complained the threat of a water shut off and $100 restoration fee was overboard.
“I just thought the letter was extreme and I’m worried about less savvy customers getting these letters,” said Debra Moffitt of Wilmington. “Is this the best way to communicate with customers?”
DiNunzio said Artesian is authorized under its contract with customers, also known as a tariff, and by the Delaware Public Service Commission to turn off water service if a customer fails to make an appointment for equipment upgrades.
“We put people on notice in accordance with our tariff that if you don’t make an appointment, we have the right to turn off the water service,” DiNunzio said. “That gets someone’s attention if they are ignoring us. But the last thing we want to do is shut someone’s water off. What we want to do is replace the meter.”
Robert Howatt, director of the Delaware Public Service Commission, said Artesian is acting within the rules of its service agreement, but questioned the water supplier’s tactics.
“The Public Service Commission would hope Artesian is sensitive and understands that customers cannot drop everything at a moment’s notice,” he said. “I would hope that they would shut off someone’s water under only the most dire of consequences.”
According to DiNunzio, the company replaces meters on a routine, 15-year schedule. He said, over time, meters slow down and record less usage than in is actually occurring, making accurate customer billing difficult.
“If you are not using an updated meter, other folks are subsidizing your use, which is not fair either,” DiNunzio said.
Moffitt who lives with her husband, David, scheduled an appointment after the second letter.
“We didn’t appreciate the extreme measures,” she said.
DiNunzio said the company has revised the letter in response to customer complaints, but said customers still need to have their meters upgraded.
David Moffitt said he is glad the company will change the letter, but added the company should not have levied the threat in the first place.
“No business but a monopoly would send you a letter like that,” he said. “It is unacceptable to come at me with a threat like that.”
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