Last month, Nelson Terry, a Northwest Washington resident, had an $846 water bill. He was so sure it was incorrect, he vowed not to pay it. This month, his account is entirely up to date.
The turn of events took place following a meeting between Terry and Edward Scott, chief of the revenue collection division of the Department of Environmental Services. They went over Terry's bills, and by the end of the meeting, Scott decided the charges were too high, and should be adjusted to reflect an average rate of $42 per six-month billing period.
That brought the bill, which was for the period from 1977 to the present, down to $360. Satisfied with its accuracy, Terry wrote the water registry a check.
Despite repeated calls, Scott could not be reached for comment on the adjustment.
"The city realized they've been a damned fool about this," Terry said.
He had been protesting his bill since 1977. At one point, he demonstrated in front of former mayor Walter E. Washington's home.
When, at his insistence, the city conducted its own inspection of his home and found no leaks, he stepped up his protest, writing and calling the Department of Environmental Service on several occasions.
The city offered to let him make arrangements to pay the bill in installments, but that wasn't the solution Terry was looking for.
"I did not want to be pacified," he said. "I believed that the bill was wrong, and I wanted to find a remedy on that basis." He also wanted to be an example to other consumers who "start to worry the minute the city says they'll be out to turn the water off."
Most people, Terry believes, would pay their water bills if they could be assured that the charges were correct.
"But look at my experience," he says. "How can others be sure that some of these outrageous bills aren't wrong, too?"
Although his problem is solved, Terry remains concerned about others in the city who may not be as lucky. He is still encouraging people to call Edward Scott if they believe their bill is in error.
"People are afraid that the water will be turned off, but as long as you're working with the city to solve the problem, I think they're really honor bound to leave it on. It's the folks who don't call and complain who wind up without water."
Terry said he doesn't really see the settlement of the issue as a victory. After dealing with the water registry for more than three years, he says he's just tired of the whole thing.
"Look at all the time I spent on the phone, protesting, demonstrating, calling people . . . my time is valuable, too. I just consider myself lucky that I had the money to pay when it was finally straightened out." And he adds, somewhat wearily, that he hopes his next water bill will arrive on time and be correct. CAPTION: Picture, The city cut Nelson Terry's water bill from $846 to $360. By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post