‘Switch’ results in ill feelings

Published 8:46 am Thursday, August 6, 2015

JACKSON – Payment is the transfer of an item of value from one party to another in exchange for the provision of goods, services, or both.

In the case of Helen Davis Wilkins and her family in Jackson, she refuses to pay for a service not rendered.

Complaining of having difficulty paying what she referred to, “an extremely high water and sewer bill, which runs over $100 monthly,” Wilkins said after speaking with a Northampton County official, she learned in December 2014 of the possibility of switching her sewer back to her septic tank system, which remains on her property.

However, since making that switch, the Wilkins family is still being billed for public sewer service, and now the bill exceeds $300. Wilkins also alleges personal mistreatment by the Northampton County Public Works Department.

On Monday, she shared those concerns with the Northampton County Board of Commissioners.

“Every month since then (December), I’ve endured threats and harassment while paying my water bill monthly,” Wilkins alleged, apparently referencing the treatment she received at the Northampton County Public Works Department.

She also alleged that fraudulent billing, extortion, and obtaining property by false pretense had taken place.

“All the while, no (public) sewage (service) was being used at my residence,” she said. “My husband (Robert Wilkins) spoke to a county commissioner about this. I want ya’ll to investigate this, especially these attacks against the elderly black citizens of our county and the permanently disabled with medical necessities who have been threatened to have their water shut off. My husband is ill, and we have been threatened to have our water shut off even though we pay our water bill.”

She said the last bill she received from the county (for sewer service) was for $355.

“But I don’t have sewer service, so I’m not paying for that,” she remarked.

Wilkins also alleged that the computer at the Public Works office would “double charge citizens after complaints are made.”

“When that was brought to the attention of those at the (Public Works) office, those citizens were told they could pay a lesser fee,” Wilkins claimed.

“I want to see the Northampton County statute or law that says a person’s water can be cut off for non payment of sewage,” Wilkins stated.

Wilkins said she has spoken with an attorney on this issue and has also contacted the Northampton County Manager and County Sheriff. She is considering contacting the North Carolina Attorney General.

“Are you concerned about the elderly black citizens and those who are permanently disabled with medical necessities for their need for water,” Wilkins asked the Commissioners.

Commissioner Robert Carter asked for verification of some of the items Wilkins addressed, specifically if her household was no longer hooked to public sewer and instead used a private septic tank on the property.

“You don’t have (public) sewer, but you continue getting a bill, is that what I’m hearing,” Carter inquired, to which Wilkins said yes.

“I’m very disturbed over that fact, being billed for sewer service that I don’t have,” she stressed. “Hopefully this will be taken care of.”

Commissioner Joe Barrett asked County Manager Kimberly Turner if there were other citizens in the county, those using county water, but have chosen to disconnect from public sewer and return to using their private septic system. Turner said the Wilkins family was the only one she was aware of.

“First off, is there a policy or procedure that allows our county citizens to do this,” Barrett inquired. “Secondly, I’ve having trouble understanding why this particular issue has not been resolved between Mr. (Jason) Morris (the county’s Public Works Director) and this family.”

“I talked with Mr. Wilkins back in November; he asked if they could disconnect from the county (sewer). I told him I would check into it and would talk with our county health department and with Mr. Morris,” Turner responded. “I also checked with the state to see if they could disconnect from public sewer and return to a private septic system. We were informed that they could do that.”

Turner added that when the family did switch back to a private septic system in December, they had been talking with Morris about the issue.

“They apparently were not getting anywhere when speaking with Mr. Morris,” Turner said. “Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins came to see me in March after receiving a letter from Mr. Morris. I was made aware then there was an issue between the family and Mr. Morris that had not been resolved.”

The issue, Turner said, centered on the fact that the Wilkins had used an unlicensed plumber to switch the home’s septic system lines from public to private usage.

“The county requires a licensed plumber to ensure the disconnect is done properly,” Turner remarked. “The Wilkins were unaware of that policy and Mr. Morris had sent them a letter saying that if they didn’t get it fixed he would cut off their water. I told Mr. Morris that we would not cut off their water.”

Turner added that she explained to Mrs. Wilkins that the county will not grant a use permit to any work performed by an unlicensed plumber. She said the Health Department has inspected the private septic tank and verified it was operational.

“The work has already been done; all the family needs to do now is have licensed plumber to go in behind what the unlicensed plumber did and verify that it was done correctly; if it was then our building inspector can be contacted and he will give the final permit,” Turner said.

However, Turner noted that Morris continues to bill the Wilkins family for public sewer.

“Why’s that,” asked Commissioner Virginia Spruill.

“I will take care of that issue, but he’s (Morris) saying that technically the family does not have a permit to operate a private septic system,” Turner answered. “So he still has to bill her.”

“I don’t like this language from a county employee to a county citizen, written or verbal,” Spruill remarked.

“I have addressed that,” Turner said.

After the meeting, Wilkins told the R-C News-Herald that she refuses to pay for county sewer because she no longer has such a service.

“My (sewer) bill is now over $350,” she said, adding that the bill basically is $40 per month, but now there is a $25 monthly fee tacked on for late payment. “I just let it build and build. I pay the water bill every month because we’re still connected to county water. But we disconnected from county sewer in December of last year, and I’m not paying for something I don’t get.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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