SARASOTA, Fla. -- About a year ago, a Sarasota County internal review found many residents were being billed for backflow inspections that had never taken place. The county issued refunds and audited the program, but some residents still have concerns.
"People were complaining that they weren't coming out and I went, ahha, that’s why the tags wasn't on there; it’s because they haven't come out to do it," says a Sarasota resident. The resident is referring to the tag placed on a backflow device by an inspector which indicates that it has been tested. Barbieri is one of the many Sarasota County residents billed about $32 a year for the test. In 2013 more than 10,000 homes were billed by the county for the service but the test was never done.
"There were a few missing time frames or years were nothing was on there," the resident says.
Since then Sarasota County officials say they have not only issued refunds but they have also taken the necessary steps to correct the problem.
"We've rectified that situation and we've made some improvements to the program to make sure it doesn't happen again," says David Cash, Sarasota County’s Interim Director of Public Utilities.
Those improvements include once again conducting the annual backflow inspections.
"Right now we are testing over 16,000 devices for Sarasota County,” Cash says. “We're almost halfway though the testing for 2014 and we expect to complete all those test by October."
But there are some residents who are still unhappy with the program.
"Where I live in Palmer Ranch every house has [the inspection], and it’s not required that every house should have it, so the county is basically taking your money," says resident John Sansone. (Full disclosure: Sansone is an employee at ABC 7.)
According to state statue, the county is required to set up a backflow testing program to protect the public water supply from contamination. But not all the homes with a meter meet the criteria for testing
"Your house has to back-up or be beside a lake or a well, and I don’t have either one,” Sansone says. “So I told them I don’t fit it so I want my money back."
The county's website does highlight the option to opt-out of the program, and officials stress those who do not meet the criteria or do not want the county to perform the test have other alternatives.
"We do it as a convenience so the devices are tested on a regular basis as required by the rule, but they can certainly hire a plumber or anyone who is qualified to perform the test for them," Cash says.
In addition, the county says they are in the process of revamping the backflow program where instead of an automatic enrollment residents will have to sign a contract with them for the service. But that is still in the works and would have to be voted on by county commissioner before it would take effect.