CHICAGO (CBS) -- This is now our fourth year of covering Chicagoans getting hosed by the city's water billing practices – and we have another first.
This is the story of a first responder getting hosed.
"I said I need help, because they're not going to help me," Lisa Beard told CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards.
"They" are the City of Chicago. And Beard said she's getting hosed – using the very words that we do.
For years, the CBS 2 Investigators have tried to unbungle the billing the Chicago Department of Water Management's bad billing. We have saved you hundreds of thousands of dollars – but still, in terms of the bad billing practices, nothing has changed.
Beard is herself a city employee.
"I can identify that I am a city employee, but not my department," she said.
Beard would face the city's wrath if said on camera where she works, but we can still tell you. She is actually Paramedic Beard, with the Chicago Fire Department.
In other words, she basically saves lives for the city.
Paramedic Beard, a single grandmother, called us – saying, again, that she needed help, and the City of Chicago is not going to help her.
"The issue with being a city employee is we are obligated to pay any city obligation," Beard said.
Beard's Getting Hosed story started with a series of three notices about her water "running continuously." It was not really running continuously – she had it checked.
Then, she got an odd overdue notice for $40.96. The reason it was odd was because she autopays her water.
Then, her bimonthly bills went from $51.24, to $61.98, to $75.98 – and then suddenly, on Oct. 19 of last year, $566.55. This happened out of nowhere, she said.
And then, on Dec. 20, came the biggie – a bill for $1,212.48. And she paid it.
"If I do not pay a city debt, I risk discipline - up to an including termination," Beard said. "That's why I paid the $1,200 bill that I don't think I owe."
Her bill claimed she used 107,000 gallons of water in two months.
"I either am running a car wash, or there's a waterpark, or there are eight pools in my backyard in order to account for the 107,000 gallons of water," Beard said. "So then they tell me, 'Well, there's got to be a leak.'"
In addition to the obvious lack of car washes, waterparks, or swimming pools in Beard's backyard, there is no evidence of a leak either. There is no yard ponding, and no basement puddles.
Beard does have a water meter.
"Google let me know that all you do is open it up," she said.
And the meter is kosher – she showed us.
We know of these systemic inaccuracies because the CBS 2 Investigators have fixed bad water bills for years.
In some of our previous investigations, the CBS 2 Investigators showed how the city hosed a Vietnam veteran with a $10,700 bill so he couldn't afford to live in his home; charged a widow for the equivalent of what six families would use for water; and hammered a small West Side church with a $6,000 bill, even though it was exempt. And another man lost out on the sale of his house because the city hosed him with a $61,000 water bill.
Despite our exposé, the city's done nothing to fix the problem.
"I've talked to them no less than 12 times. They said 24 to 48 hours." Beard said. "I count pretty good. We're on day number six - so that's way over 48 hours.
After we got involved, the city finally hopped on its bureaucratic horse and checked things out. But there is no resolution.
"And it's getting worse. I go from $500 to $1,200. Well, the next billing cycle - is it going to be 10,000?" Beard said. "I don't know.
So she has halted her autopay for her water bill. And she wonders what's going on.
"One hundred and seven thousand gallons of water?" Beard said. "I'm just wondering = where in the world could that be hiding?"
Read closely here, as it does not make a lot of sense. After we got involved, the city finally did something – but they did not find a leak.
They checked her meter again, and found it was still working properly. Yet they say she is still on the hook for that bill for $1,212.48.
We'll stay on top of this paramedic's case.
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