Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Man pays water bill for 600 years

Don Mathis was in for some good news — sort of. He wouldn't have to pay another water bill for 600 years. But the circumstances of such good fortune left the Houston man sourly dismayed.

Mathis thought his check for $99,000 was safely en route to a Dallas securities firm where it would be used to purchase a certificate of deposit. Instead, it arrived at Houston's Department of Public Works and Engineering office, where it was automatically processed, endorsed and deposited.

"It's a comedy of errors," Mathis said, noting that he never suspected anything was amiss until he received a nervous phone call from Dallas. "I have no idea what went wrong. I've done this a jillion times."

Mathis said the problem started last month when, as usual, he paid his granddaughter's $13.74 water bill by phone. About the same time, he dropped his check to the security firm in the corner mailbox.

Days later he was advised the check had not arrived.

His bank determined the check had been deposited in a city account — effectively pre-paying the granddaughter's water bill for six centuries.

"Mr. Mathis mailed a check payable to Southwest Securities, which was processed through our automatic payments processing system," public works Director Michael Marcotte told the City Council in a memo. "Due to the high volume of checks received daily, we did not notice the mistake."

Public works spokesman Alvin Wright theorized that Mathis might inadvertently have placed his check in the water bill's return envelope.

Mathis insisted he never mailed the check to public works.

He has petitioned the city for a full refund, and this time he likely will be in for real good news. The City Council is expected to approve his request Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Mathis' granddaughter's new water bill has just arrived.

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