Family struggles with high water bills; KC Water to restore their service

Melonie Bess
Posted at 4:00 AM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 08:12:51-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hand-washing is a major defense against COVID-19, which is why the Kansas City, Missouri, water department promised to halt shutoffs during the pandemic.

Yet one Kansas City family says they initially fell through the cracks due to high water bills.

Melonie Bess and her fiance have lived in a house off Spruce Avenue for a little over a year. They moved to Kansas City to help care for their grandchildren.

The couple noticed the cost of living at their rental home really adds up.

"Outrageous prices. Over $300," Bess said, referring to her water bills.

The 41 Action News Investigators reviewed some of her bills, finding one month's wastewater volume charge was $111.

At one point, Bess said the cumulative total hit $1,500. She couldn't keep up.

"I was even donating plasma," she said.

The family's water has been shut off several times, most recently at the start of the year.

"It's scary to go to bed every night and say, oh my God, we're supposed to wash our hands 20 times a day, sing the ABCs while we do it. We could teach the kids their ABCs, but we don't have water sometimes," Bess said.

KC Water announced in March it would temporarily halt shutoffs due to non-payment.

"We know washing hands is an important defense to this virus, so during these challenging times, we want to make sure every customer has access to clean running water," KC Water Director Terry Leeds said at the time.

The 41 Action News Investigators reached out to KC Water about Bess' situation. A spokeswoman said Bess had reached out before the decision was made to halt shutoffs. The department will restore water at her house.

Still, paying future bills remains a major concern for Bess.

"I understand the bills are our problem and our faults, I do take claim in that, but the outrageousness of how expensive they are should be looked into," she said.

KC Water's manager of collections is looking into those bills. The 41 Action News Investigators also contacted the family's landlord.

In the meantime, Bess is thankful for at least one silver lining to the situation.

"I have to say God is with us because through this epidemic, there's neighbors we haven't talked to since we lived here that have brought us water bottles or milk jugs full of water. It has been fabulous," she said.

Customers who do not have water right now should contact KC Water for assistance. The Community Action Agency of Greater Kansas City also offers help with water bills.

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