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Citizen learns hard way about meter shutoff
During emergency he shut water off in meter box; now city socking him with a fine
water meter
The city forbids anyone from opening up the in-ground water meter box and will issue a $100 fine if they do so.

Over the past weekend Will Schlarb had a leaky water valve in his house and learned the hard way that to make the repair shutting off the water from the water meter box is a major city no-no.

Schlarb is being socked with a $100 fine for “tampering” with the meter box after reporting to the city that it may have been leaking because the box was wet when he first opened the meter box.

“The valve outside by house would not turn off so I turned the valve off at the main,” said Schlarb. It was an emergency. I needed to do it right away because water was leaking down my wall.”

Schlarb told the Courier that his main water shutoff would not work so he resorted to the in-ground box that contains the meter and to off the water there to prevent further water damage and to fix the problem.

He claims that the meter box was wet before he shut off the service to make the repair. He says that as a courtesy he called the city to report that water was leaking inside the box when he was “immediately interrupted” by a utilities staffer and told, “You know you are not to open the box; there will be a $100 fine.”

“They eventually listened to what I explained, then repeated the city ordinance requires us to fine you $100, there is no provision for waiver,” said Schlarb.

While Schlarb claims there is no mention of the ordinance on the billing, Finance Director Leticia Dias says there is verbiage on the bill about that very subject.

Opening the meter box is considered tampering.

“We tell customers not to mess with the meter because if they do go into the meter and they break it they are responsible to pay for fixing it,” said Diaz. “So this is why we don’t allow them to. We have an ordinance that talks about tampering with the water meter and that you will be charged for it if you do. The back of our bill has verbiage that says ‘It is unlawful for any person to interfere with the city service lines, valves or meters.”

She said customers who have problems shutting off their water in an emergency should call the city on the after-hours line at (209)538-5712.

“We tell them to turn the water off at the main which is like the one right next to the house coming out of your spigots that shuts the water off to the entire house. If somebody does come in and say, ‘Hey I turned off the meter and turned it back on,’ we’re going to charge you a tamper fee.”

Schlarb said that to “add insult to injury” he is being billed $100 for tampering and $235.38 for repairs and locking off his service untiI he pays his bill. 

“Of my 33 years of paying my water service to the city, I do not remember being late once,” said Schlarb. “This kind of citizen-government action is not good for retaining good-paying and local investing citizens.”