Wastewater department billed De Soto schools for a lot of green but gave a lot back

08/26/2014 11:34 AM

08/28/2014 3:42 PM

The De Soto School District recently learned the value of asking questions.

About $26,680, as it turns out.

That’s the amount of a refund check the district received from Johnson County Wastewater after the district questioned its bill. At issue was the method used to keep track of the water poured out to keep new sod alive in a very dry summer.

The district had been charged for about 9 million gallons of water used to keep two fields irrigated during three summer months of 2012, said Alvie Cater, spokesman for the district.

But since water for landscaping goes straight into the ground instead of wastewater treatment lines, it should not have been included in the bill. Hence the refund.

Wastewater usage is not measured directly, because there’s no meter that measures the water going out of a building. Instead, wastewater charges are based on how much fresh water is coming in.

But that can be tricky for commercial customers, said Lisa Davis, Johnson County Wastewater director of customer relations. For instance, some businesses use water in their products that never is returned to wastewater treatment plants. Or they use it to irrigate, as was the case for De Soto schools.

So businesses and other commercial water users can get something called “deduct meters.” Commercial customers can install them to document how much water is being used for landscaping or other uses that don’t return it to wastewater treatment.

Deduct meters would have told wastewater billers that the school district was actually returning closer to 387,000 gallons to the system, according to wastewater department records sent to the school district. But the wastewater department worked with information from the district’s other meters to come up with the refund anyway, Davis said.

De Soto schools eventually spent $5,600 on two deduct meters to avoid future problems, Cater said.

Residential customers don’t need deduct meters, Davis said, because their average bills are figured based on winter water use. That bill stays constant throughout the year.

The county has posted information about the meters on its website, said Davis, and tries to send out information to commercial customers in older buildings that may not already have dedicated meters for irrigation. Still, not everyone has heard of them. About 500 customers participate in the deduct program, she said. The county does not sell the meters.

De Soto officials were alerted to the possibility that the bill was incorrect by Tony Lauer of Shawnee. He has been active in local government issues and routinely scrutinizes their records.

De Soto’s problems were similar to those of the Shawnee parks department a few years ago, Lauer said. In that case, he pointed out a large water bill for facilities at Stump Park that have only bathrooms and drinking fountains for sports fields.

Not many companies have asked for refunds, Davis said. But the wastewater department will help its customers when they think that refunds are due, she said.

“If there’s a way to work with them to help them get a credit, then we will do that,” she said.

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