Ashland City residents and commercial landowners struggling to pay unusually high water bills from leaky pipes and plumbing fixtures will soon be turning to an insurance provider instead of asking the town government for a break on those bills.
The cost of the insurance will be spread among all water users who don’t opt out of the new program.
The city council voted unanimously at its January meeting to adopt an arrangement with Chattanooga-based ServLine, insuring the town against the costs of wasted water leaking on private property and in effect insuring residents against monthly bills in the hundreds or thousands of dollars stemming from leaks.
Landowners are responsible for maintaining pipes and fixtures on their property. But when a leak triggers an astronomical water bill, the customers often seek relief, and the council routinely lowers such charges. The council does so on a case-by-case basis, setting new amounts in line with customers’ monthly bill averages.
All of that will change when the new program is rolled out. Under the new system, water customers will call ServLine about the leaks and the bills. The company’s proposal that the council adopted says on the front: “We pay for high water bills caused by customer leaks.”
All customers will see a line-item charge for the insurance on their monthly bills -- $3.05 for a home, $5.95 for a single-occupancy business and $11.90 for a multi-occupancy business. The leak insurance pays up to $2,500 “per occurrence,” and there are limits to how many leak occurrences per customer will be covered. The customer also does not pay a deductible.
Customers will be able to opt out of the coverage, but if they do so and then get a huge bill from a leak, they can expect no recourse from the town.
ServLine and the town staff were preparing an outreach campaign to tell residents and commercial landowners about the new insurance system.
Water bills five or 10 times higher than a customer’s monthly average aren’t uncommon in Ashland City. People sometimes say they weren’t aware of leaky underground pipes that caused their “usage” to skyrocket. Sometimes renters get the staggering bills and blame landlords for not fixing toilets or showers.
At its December regular meeting alone, the council cast a series of votes lowering the bills of seven residential customers. One bill was cut from $1,261 to $111. Another was slashed from $453 to $64.
A commercial customer with monthly average bills under $200 has seen bills as high as $865, $1,627 and $3,123.
Council and staff members said details of the new insurance program are still being worked out. They said water customers will call ServLine to report leaks and try to get bills lowered, though customers will still be free to take any concerns to the council.
ServLine works with many utility providers in Tennessee, touting itself as a win-win for utilities and customers. The company says its services reduce stress in people facing water bills they can’t afford to pay, while also cutting out the barrage of bill-adjustment requests that administrators and officials must otherwise confront.