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Water shut off at Berkeley Gardens

September 23, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - April Braithwaite was all set to start her morning regimen - take a shower, feed her two children and clean the apartment - when she turned on the faucet around 9 a.m. Wednesday and discovered her water was shut off.

The Berkeley Gardens resident said she found a note on her door saying the water would be off from 8 to 10 a.m., which didn't seem too bad.

"I waited and waited and waited," said Braithwaite, 22, who said she ended up foregoing the shower, cleaning and feeding her 4-month-old daughter, Alexus Jacques, her normal warm rice cereal, which requires water.

The water didn't come back on until a little after 2:30 p.m., she said.

Across the hallway, Randy and Shelly Dawson were thankful they'd made up enough formula for 23-day-old son Jessie on Tuesday night.

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But it was still inconvenient, said Shelly Dawson, 27, who said she had planned to bathe her son and 4-year-old daughter and take a shower in the morning.

Braithwaite and the Dawsons couldn't have done anything to prevent the shutoff, according to a Berkeley County water service official.

It happened because the company that manages the apartment complex, Multi-Family Management Inc., was more than a month late paying the bill, said Walt Sebert, general manager of the Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District.

The water and sewer bill for the entire complex is paid by the management company, not the renters, who can't pay for their service individually, Sebert said.

Too little, too late

After a pattern of getting the payment in just under the wire before service was cut off, the management company was a few hours too late and a little short on the payment this month, he said.

"It's just a shame. These people here paid their bills, and the people they paid haven't paid," he said.

A check for $80 less than the amount due was received via Federal Express around noon Wednesday, said Sebert, who wouldn't give the total amount due.

A little later, a representative took in a check for the difference, but it was made out to the wrong payee, he said.

Sebert said service would be restored after someone came back with a corrected check.

A representative of Berkeley Gardens Apartments declined to comment on the situation late Wednesday, according to an employee in the complex office.

No one could be reached by phone at the Multi-Family Management Inc., office in Martinsburg.

The department has to treat all delinquent customers the same, Sebert said.

Service is cut off after the bill is 42 days late, he said.

In that time, customers receive a late notice, a termination notice, and, in the case of an apartment complex like Berkeley Gardens, a red-colored notice is posted on all bulletin boards several days before the deadline, Sebert said.

Around 900 termination notices were sent out in August, he said.

Probably about 100 of those customers had their water supply cut off, said Sebert, who said the bill is usually paid and service resumed within a day.

"It's a routine around here," he said. "Some people go through the routine each month."

Braithwaite said she has seen notices posted in the complex threatening the water would be shut off three or four times since she moved there in February.

"I figured being such a big complex, they would pay before it got shut off," she said.

Shelly Dawson said she questioned management when she saw the notices and was told the check didn't arrive on time and not to worry.

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