It took patience, persistence and perseverance, but Bill Keicher of Burlington, Mass., was able to resolve a protracted two-part problem he had with a water and sewage bill for the vacant Brookline home of his late father.
Mr. Keicher, the executor of his father's estate, was responsible for all of the household expenses, including the $16.09 monthly bill from Pennsylvania American Water.
That bill skyrocketed to $4,392.14 when the company said 483,100 gallons had been used at the house from mid-February to mid-April.
The problem turned out to be that the flapper valve in the tank of a second-floor toilet was stuck open.
Water entering the tank to refill it was flowing directly into the bowl and down the drain.
The water had been left on because the house had been up for sale with a real estate agent.
Mr. Keicher, a senior member of the technical staff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, contacted the Post-Gazette when his efforts to have the bill reduced were unsuccessful.
I called the water company and asked whether it would review the account to see if Mr. Keicher qualified for a one-time abatement. It did, he did and the bill was lowered to $483.71.
Sewage bills, of course, are based on water consumption.
So, when a $2,317.24 sewage bill from the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority arrived in the mail with a "friendly reminder" that it was "past due and must be paid in full immediately," Mr. Keicher contacted the authority.
He said it took two phone calls and two emails before the authority placed the bill on hold while it reviewed the account.
The bill was reduced to $219.02. The two abatements resulted in a savings to the estate of $6,004.
Mr. Keicher's advice to other long-distance property owners?
"Shut off the water when you leave the house for more than a week."
Her license pl8
Although PennDOT spokesman Craig Yetter said he couldn't comment on the specifics of Mary Fisher's problem with her license plate that I wrote about on July 18, he did say, "Quality is important to the department in the delivery of motor vehicle products and services."
Mrs. Fisher, a retired University of Pittsburgh human resources employee who lives in Robinson, had the same license plate for 11 years.
In May, she discovered that the state Department of Transportation had given her three letters and four numbers to someone else.
She said she never received her registration renewal notice.
Mr. Yetter said the state mails renewal notices 60 to 90 days prior to expiration. A quick look at your license plate will tell you when the sticker expires.
Drivers who don't receive a renewal notice can renew their registration online at www.dmv.state.pa.us. Motorists also can go to the website, click on Form MV-140 "Request for Registration," print it, complete it and mail it. Additionally, they can call PennDOT's customer service center at 1-800-932-4600.
"The department and its authorized agents are to ensure the accuracy of the products provided to our customers," Mr. Yetter said. "The customer can also review their products upon receipt to ensure accuracy against the information recorded on their paperwork."
So what happened to Mrs. Fisher's license plate?
"At times, a data entry error occurs in the completion of motor vehicle paperwork or in the data entry of a customer's motor vehicle information," Mr. Yetter said. "The department works with the customer to rectify these situations."
And that's what the department did to resolve Mrs. Fisher's problem and return her license plate numbers and letters to her.
They had been assigned to a man in Uniontown.
Mrs. Fisher said a PennDOT community relations coordinator told her the license plate issued to the Uniontown driver should have had at least one letter or number that was different from hers.
"I'm thrilled to have my license plate back," she said.
Lawrence Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and 412-263-1895. Please include your day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email and phone call.