Every now and then I receive an actual old-fashioned letter in the mail from a real person with a real stamp and delivered by a real employee of the U.S. Postal Service.
It doesn’t happen often, but it’s a complete delight when it does. And given how much effort goes into such correspondence, I take the contents of such a letter very seriously. Especially if the author is critical of something I’ve said or done.
The letter in question came from a kind soul named Herman who lives on the Mollusk Streets in that beautiful Far West Davis development known as Stonegate. I think it takes two stamps to get a letter all the way from Stonegate to my humble dwelling in Olde East Davis, but that didn’t stop Herman.
“Dear Bob Dunning,” Herman begins ominously, sounding more like a fund-raiser than a personal friend.
“I would like to bring to your attention to an interesting city bill generated by a computer of the City of Davis.”
Given that this is a bill and not a summons or a demand for Herman to stop burning Presto Logs on Christmas Eve, it would almost certainly have to be the dreaded “City Services Bill.”
Notes Herman: “Normally, senior citizens do not add up item by item.”
Actually, Herman, nobody does. You get your bill and start looking at all the various things you’re paying for and generally vertigo sets in long before you can add anything up.
“However, if you look at the attached copy of our bill, there is a great discrepancy of the total bill and the items charged.”
You mean the folks at City Hall actually made a mistake? Let me guess, the mistake was in their favor, not yours.
“I hope that this does not mean that we all should be more alert in the future at checking bills from businesses of all kinds, such as bank statements, etc.”
Having never second-guessed my city bill by adding up the seven separate charges that make up the “Total Due,” I figured Herman was just having a bad day with his abacus and the mistake was almost certainly his, not the city’s.
So I took out my magnifying glass to deal with the itty-bitty numbers on Herman’s bill and learned he used 16 ccf of water in the 32-day billing period compared to just 5 ccf last year.
Which makes sense, given how dry it’s been in the last several months as we all watch what’s left of our yards shrivel up and die without our usual rainfall. Either that or Herman spent last year in Palm Springs.
All that water cost Herman $19.68, plus his base monthly charge of $17.33.
Then we get into such things as “sanitation,” “storm sewer” and “sanitary sewer,” and may I suggest it’s probably best at this point to take young children out of the room.
Turns out Herman owes $28.06 for sanitation for his smallish 35-gallon can, plus $4.46 for the storm sewer, a whopping $39.34 for sanitary sewer, a $6.87 municipal service tax and a $5.41 public safety charge.
Herman added those all together and came up with $121.15. The Above-Pictured Columnist added those all together and came up with $121.15.
The city added those all together and came up with “Current Charges” of $146.15, a full $25 more than that it should be.
I have scoured Herman’s bill for the missing 25 dollars, figuring it must be hidden in there somewhere. Try as I might, though, I could find nothing to justify the higher charge.
Even under “previous balance” there are only zeroes. No matter how the numbers add up, the city wants its money and it wants it now.
“10 percent penalty if not paid by 1/27/2014.”
It should read “This bill is free if city doesn’t correct its math by 1/27/2014.”
— Reach Bob Dunning at firstname.lastname@example.org