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ETX water company responds to complaints

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HENDERSON COUNTY (KYTX) -- The Monarch Utility Company and its parent company, Southwest Water, reached out to CBS 19 after a recent story about people who claim they're being over-billed.

WE MET RYAN QUIGLEY, Southwest's Director of Operations, at a treatment plant in Dogwood City. It's tiny compared to what you'd see in Tyler or Longview, but it's just one of many across Henderson County. Quigley said the size is one way the company is trying to pass savings on to customers.

"It doesn't require as many staff," Quigley said. "We don't have to go to every plant every day. We can have one operator go to several plants over several different days."

Quigley talked about other ways bills can climb and quickly become unmanageable. Sometimes it's a leak, but the good news is newer-model meters help you catch even the smallest ones yourself.

"If you see that little dial in the middle [of a modern meter, inside the center of the needle] spinning, you have a low-flow leak going somewhere inside your house."

Low-flow leaks usually point to a leaking toilet or dripping sink. They're not the kinds of things you'd normally think to fix immediately.

"One small drip can add up to 20,000 gallons in one month's usage very easily," Quigley said.

"I can't talk to [Monarch]. Most people can't," Cherokee Shores resident Patti Woods said. "They got ahold of me one time to try to settle the bill with me which did not work."

The people at Southwest are up against some neighbors who say they're not listening, like Woods, who got a bill for $350 worth of water last month.

"I can't afford it," Woods said. "I'm going to lose my water. My water will be shut off because I can't pay it. And you have to have water to live."

"Our customers needed help. We heard them," Quigley said. "They're fixed income, low-income families."

Quigley said a lot of customers will qualify for the company's Help2Others program which gives needy families up to $40 off every month. There's also a leak forgiveness program which reduces bills for people who don't have a history of problems.

"You have [to have] been a good paying customer, you [can't have] been disconnected repeatedly over your life cycle with Southwest Water."

Woods told CBS 19 that she still hasn't been able to work anything out with Monarch. It's been almost exactly a month since she got that bill and she believes she'll have her water turned off. She said she doesn't want to admit to having had a leak to qualify for assistance because it's not true.

Southwest and Monarch continue to deny any malfeasance in the billing process.

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