Margaret Klamp of Amherst spends half the year in Florida.
But the 83-year-old snowbird had to come back to Western New York this past spring a little early – and with a broken heart.
“I lost my husband, and we were here because we had a memorial service for him,” Klamp said.
The same week she buried her beloved Walt, her husband of 61 years, Klamp was hit with yet another setback -- a $2,000 water bill for the seven-month period when she was 1,400 miles away.
“Nobody was here,” she said. “The house was empty. And the basement was not flooded…I thought it was a joke.”
But it was no joke. Water authority workers came out to her home and looked at her meter. They didn’t find anything wrong with it but gave her a new one anyway – leaving Klamp even more frustrated.
“I think it’s disgraceful,” she said. “How come they’re picking on 83-year-old people?”
For the past two decades, the most the Klamps say they had ever been charged while in Florida was $200 – now the bill is 10 times that amount.
“All of a sudden, we were going from $9 and $14 and $16 to 485,000 gallons of water were apparently used when we were gone,” Klamp said.
The water authority suggested she hire a plumber – who found only minor water seepage and upgraded one of her pipes.
“And certainly when I called the Water Department, I was treated with…they just said, read the meter, that’s what it says, that’s what you owe. And I said, there was nobody here. How could that be? Then I found one man who I thought was going to be helpful…” she said.
That man is Peter Reszka.
Reszka is the assistant business office manager of the Water Authority, where he has worked for 40 years.
Like many Water Authority employees, he has political connections, in his case in the Town of Hamburg.
Reszka makes $90,000 per year in his Water Authority post.
“And he, too, looked at the record and said it doesn’t make any sense,” Klamp said.
But eventually, Klamp said, Reszka persuaded her to pay $900 -- roughly half the balance of the disputed bill. She figured the Water Authority would look into the other half for her.
“And the next thing I knew I opened my front door and there was this notice saying if you don’t pay this bill, we are going to turn your water off,” Klamp said.
Klamp thought the notice might have been a mistake, so she sent a letter to Reszka and followed up by phone five more times.
She says he never responded.
“The thing that really annoyed me was that when I thought I had found someone who was listening, he decided he didn’t want to answer my telephone calls, and I called five times,” she said. “And he didn’t want to return the calls.”
Klamp admitted defeat this week. She reluctantly paid the rest of the bill, not wanting to return to Florida next week with an outstanding debt.
“My daughter told me I was going to feel much better when I just wrote it and forgot about it, but I can’t forget about it,” she said. “This is just so unfair.”
We reached out to Water Authority officials last week and asked them to investigate Klamp’s case.
Since then, Klamp has heard nothing.
UPDATE: Water Authority spokesman Michael Caputo contacted us after our story ran with a prepared statement.
“Mrs. Klamp's nephew tested the home's toilets and found three leaking - this alone could account for the higher usage. One thing is certain: a tremendous amount of water was used in her home last winter,” the statement said.
The Water Authority is doing what we can to help. Even though Mrs. Klamp was weeks late disputing the bill, we allowed her to appeal. We tested her meter, waived that $125 fee, and found it in perfect working order. We waived the late charge for her when she did pay. We also offered her a leak allowance: if she repairs the leaks and her consumption returns to normal, she can be refunded 50 percent of her payment for excess usage.
If you leave your lights on in your house, the electric company doesn't give you free electricity. If you leave town for months with your thermostat set on high, the gas company won't give you free gas. Likewise, the Water Authority cannot give away free water but we have worked hard to assist Mrs. Klamp and we'll continue to do so.”
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