Fear of water has Sparta family on edge

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    SPARTA-Don't call them tightwads; the Tracy family insists they are not. They'll admit that they rarely use the home dishwasher, take showers only out of necessity, and cringe whenever the faucet is turned on to wet a tooth brush., but don't call them penny pinchers. The Sparta residents say that they, quite simply, are just afraid of water and don't know what to do about it. "Every time I turn my water on, I start panicking -- ‘Oh, no! There goes another $1,000,' " said Cary Tracy. And she isn't kidding, either. Tracey said there's nothing funny about the more than $4,500 in water bills her family has racked up since she moved to the Lake Mohawk section of the township from Minnesota some 16 months ago with her husband and three children. "I thought, this is kind of high," said Tracy, recalling when the first quarterly bill for $300 arrived in the mail. "But, I knew it would be more expensive to live in New Jersey. Then the second bill for $2,700 came. "I started laughing n ‘Oh, my goodness, they sent us the wrong bill," she said, from her four-bedroom Cape Cod this week. "I thought they sent us the wrong bill." But then another for $1,500. "I called the town and said, ‘Obviously, you made a mistake,'" said Tracy, who said she was told that her family was using about 1,000 gallons of water per day; even with one child living away at college. "That was impossible." The Tracys hired a plumber to check for leaks in their sewer system and found nothing. They called the water department back in Minnesota, which told them the most they had ever used in their previous residence was 300 gallons a day. The family then went back to Sparta Township administrators, who suggested they pursue an installment plan for about $300 a month plus interest to pay their water bill. "How ridiculous is that?" said Tracy, who said the family has paid $3,000 to cover the first two bills. "We're on an installment plan for our water bill. When I tell people this, they faint." Martha Preston, the Sparta Township water bill administrator, said it's not unusual for a home using town sewers to accumulate such a large bill. "When I see a large bill like that, sometimes it's a red flag," she said. "But, I do comparable histories. For that area, with underground sprinklers, it wasn't out of the normal." Preston said a comparable home in the area was billed $918 for 283,000 gallons over a four-month period in the summer of 2003 and then $719 for 220,000 gallons the following year. "We don't determine how the water is used," said Preston. "We just know what passes through the meter. That's how they are billed." Cary Tracy said a neighbor with a similar-sized family and home with sewers was billed $300 quarterly and $700 in the summer. "I'm so sick of this," said Tom Tracy, who said he moved his family to New Jersey because of a better job opportunity. "It's absolutely ridiculous and it's becoming very costly." Tom Tracy thought, and still does believe,there might be something wrong with the water meter. He appealed to the township council for assistance earlier this month at a public meeting. Henry Underhill, the township manager, said he would look into the situation and get back to the family. He did this week in a letter stating the family had been billed in accordance with the numbers represented on their water meter. "There's nothing wrong with the meter," said Underhill. "The people who lived there before didn't have this problem." But Tom Tracy said a new radio meter was installed in July, allowing water readings from the street. He also is unaware of any underground sprinkler system, but admits the family's in-ground pool had a few minor leaks; nothing, though, out of the ordinary. "It's kind of like the town has wiped its hands of it," said Tom Tracy, who is leery about hiring an attorney to look into the matter. "The town thinks they've done all that it can do." Cary Tracy said the family likes living in Sparta, that Lake Mohawk is beautiful. It's the water she has a problem with. "We've only lived here a little more than a year," she said. "We don't know who to go to, who to talk to." talk to."