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When Riverside resident Michael Toto opened his water bill at the beginning of May he couldn't believe his eyes.
Next to the legend "water charges" was the staggering amount of $743.40 for the previous two months of service. He had allegedly gone through 67,000 gallons of water, enough to fill a swimming pool measuring 90-by-20-by-5 feet.
It seemed impossible to him. How could an 88-year-old man living alone possibly have used that much water in that time. His typical bill was anywhere between $45 and $60. This was a half year's worth of water in two months.
"Where did the water go?" asked Toto.
The village gave him an unsettling answer: "Down the drain."
At least that's the ruling the village is sticking with after Toto and his family complained to the village about the bill. After checking into the matter, Village Manager Peter Scalera stated that the village's equipment appeared to be in good working order and there were no leaks in Toto's water system.
"The water did run through the meter," said Jessica Frances, the village's finance director.
Toto's family then went over Scalera's head to the village board at their meeting on May 21. But the board stood with Scalera.
Even now, no one knows exactly what caused the high water bill. Toto made good on the bill recently.
"I just paid it off," said Toto, a retired pipefitter who has lived in his Repton Road home since 1956 (his brother Rudolph, a carpenter, built the home). "I don't want to be bothered with it."
But he can't say for sure he won't get socked with another bill again. And neither can the village.
The village's meter system is a newer one, where meters are read remotely every two months by an employee who drives the village and electronically records the information. While it takes just a fraction of the time to read meters compared to the old days, when they had to be inspected personally, it's not feasible, Scalera said, to check individual meters continually to discover abnormal water usage.
"This is truly one of those instances where there were no leaks and the meter was working fine," Scalera said. "It's an anomaly."
Well, it's not quite an anomaly, though this particular instance seems to be something of a mystery.
It turns out that Toto had received a similar bill back in October 2010, when he was mailed a $600 water bill. At that time, the problem was traced to a leaky toilet in the basement of the home. The problem was solved when the water to that toilet was shut off. And it remained a non-issue until this spring.
Toto and his niece, Gina Cleary, say that the water to that toilet has remained off since 2010 and that Toto rarely, if ever even goes downstairs. A cleaning lady does come in once every two weeks and does laundry in the basement, but would have no reason to turn the toilet back on in the basement. There are two other bathrooms on the main floor of the home.
After the October 2010 issue, the village swapped out the old meter, not because it was over-reading water usage, said Scalera, because it was under-reading usage. Scalera said that he believes Toto and his family when they say that the water wasn't left running at his home, but that the village's hands are tied. The water was used.
Although village trustees kicked around then idea of a compromise on the bill, they ended up backing Scalera's decision to collect the full amount because of the possibility to leaving the door open to negotiating bills every time someone felt he was overcharged.
"I sympathize, but I'm afraid of setting a precedent," said Trustee Mark Shevitz. "It puts us in a bad position."