You go out to dinner and order a meal.
Say it comes to $50.
When the bill comes, though, it’s $450.
You lose your mind.
Turns out, the restaurant’s computer mistakenly put the meals for everyone else in the restaurant on your bill.
You speak to the manager, and he says:
“Sorry. Your waitress already cashed out for the night. We spoke to our accountant, and he says it’s too late to fix the bill for you. So here’s what we’ll do. You pay the entire $450 bill yourself right now. If you don’t pay, we’ll have to charge you interest and penalties. But don’t worry. In a couple of months, when we’re counting our quarterly receipts, we’ll send you a refund, minus the interest and fines, of course.”
So you gladly skip over to the nearest ATM, take out $400, pay the cashier, and resume your pleasant evening out, your belly full and your wallet empty.
Sounds reasonable, right?
No. It sounds like total bull—oney.
But that’s exactly what the town of Rotterdam is asking of the 150 or so residents who were mistakenly sent the entire capital projects bill for all of Sewer District 2 to pay among themselves, and it’s exactly the solution officials are telling residents to accept.
Some residents saw their sewer bills jump from around $260 to around $1,200. Some saw them go up from around $230 to more than $2,000. That’s not a small mistake.
Town officials say that because the bills have already gone out, they can’t resolve the issue until the next tax bills are due.
So they’re recommending residents pay the whole giant bill and wait to be reimbursed or credited sometime in the future.
Sorry if you’re on a fixed income. Sorry if you lost your job due to the pandemic. Pay up, or face fines and penalties. If you don’t like it, write a note on your bill saying you object to it. Or maybe you can take the town to court – at your expense, naturally.
This is not the residents’ fault. It shouldn’t be their problem to solve.
If the town and county can’t figure out this mess themselves, the state comptroller or the attorney general should consider stepping in. This can’t be the first time something like this has happened.
Maybe a local state legislator can put forth special legislation. Maybe the town could arrange an immediate rebate on the bills to get residents their money fast.
Town officials should also investigate how the bills got sent in the first place. Did no one notice that most residents of the district paid nothing for the capital costs, while others paid a lot?
All the hand-wringing, excuses and apologies in the world won’t bail out the residents who can’t afford an extra $1,000 or $2,000 for a bill they don’t owe.
Government created the rules. There’s a solution for these people somewhere.