Who says you can't fight city hall?
In April of 2002, I received my annual sewer charge bill from the town of Cromwell for the amount of $125. When I went to pay this bill I asked why this sewer charge had to be due in April, the same month that our federal and state taxes were due. I received a rather snotty reply from one of the clerks. She said with head tossed back, “Well, sir! Why don’t you just budget?”
I was annoyed. I was irritated. I was insulted. I asked what I though was a perfectly reasonable question. And got a snotty reply. I wrote the following letter to Mr. William Pie (pronounced Peeay), the head of the sewer department.
Mr. Wm. Pié
Cromwell, CT 06416
Dear Mr. Pié:
Recently I had occasion to speak with one of your staff regarding the timing of our sewer use charge. I expressed concern that the timing made it difficult for those of us who had to pay Federal and state income taxes at the same time. As you can see by the attached, paying this charge at the same time as our other taxes are due causes an extreme hardship.
I asked why this charge could not have been made at another time of year. I did not get a satisfactory answer.
Her response was a cold uncaring question: why don't you just budget? So Idecided to take her advice and budget. I am enclosing a check for ten dollars this month and will be making periodic payments throughou the year.
Cashing this check means you will accept this form of payment.
Thank you for your attention.
Melvin C. Hathorn
My letter was ignored. I was angered. My reasonable question remained unanswered.
“She wants me to budget? OK, I’ll budget,” I fumed.
Over the following weeks and months I made regular payments of small amounts. Some checks were for $3.14. On those checks I wrote in the memo field, “a Pi for Bill Pie.” Other checks were for small amounts such as $6.18 which is the ancient ratio known to the Greeks as “the golden mean.” Those memo fields read, “Not quite golden but nevertheless mean.” I was having a great time. They wanted me to budget? OK they asked for it! As long as they weren’t going to answer my question, I decided I might as well have a little fun.
After several payments with an accompanying note repeating the question, the staff knew what I was there for. I could see that they were getting irritated. They rolled their eyes; they glowered. I laughed to myself and thought that if they had simply answered my question, none of this would have happened.
On the last day that the sewer charge was due, I went to the Sewer Department and asked for a receipt. They printed the receipt on a clattering dot matrix printer. Unfortunately the computer was programmed to print out one payment on one sheet of paper. Since I had fifty payments the loud printer spit out 50 sheets of paper each listing one check. I left with a ream of paper.
This went on for two or three years. Finally, I got a response from the sewer department saying that April was the most convenient time for the town to bill the residents of Cromwell. OK. Now that I had gotten an answer, I could make regular payments once a year. All this could have been avoided if they had simply replied.
Just when I thought it was all over.
This past year, I refinanced my condo with the Credit Union. The Credit Union does not escrow for taxes. I went in yesterday to pay my property tax. After making my payment, I innocently asked how I could avoid such large payments in the future.
Her answer? Sir! You should just plan ahead!
Plan ahead? Hmmm…
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