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Port: Late payment notice leads to adventures with bureaucracy

I can choose my cellphone service. I can pick a new insurance company. I can't choose a new water provider, and there are times when the government makes that painfully clear.

PHOTO: City of Minot Sign
Minot city sign. Photo by Rob Port
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MINOT, N.D. — The other day, I found a notice from the City of Minot on my front door indicating that I had 24 hours to pay my water bill or they'd be turning off my service.

Needless to say, I was alarmed.

My water bill is the only bill I still receive in the mail. I've moved everything else to online billing. I checked my records. The last time I paid this particular bill was in March.

I was floored.

I couldn't call the city immediately. I didn't discover the note until after business hours. After a sleepless night — I can be a little crazy about paying bills on time — I found myself sitting at my desk waiting until 8 a.m., precisely, to call in and get my bill paid.


And also to figure out what happened, because there is no way I missed three straight water bills.
It turns out I wasn't paying the bills because I wasn't getting them. They were returned to the city as undeliverable. Someone was even handwriting "not at this address" on the envelopes.

The city's customer service lady advised me to talk to the post office.

After spending some time ensuring that all of my other affairs were in order — if I wasn't getting my water bill, what other mail was I missing? — I called the customer service number I found on the USPS website and was quickly lost in an automated phone labyrinth seemingly designed to keep me from ever speaking to a human being who could help me.

I tried calling the local post office, where, after working my way through a number of automated prompts, I was directed to call the national customer service number.

Just then, I spotted my mail carrier at my front door. I caught him and explained my problem. He was bewildered. He said he hadn't noticed the water bills and, since he knows me, he would remember someone claiming I don't live at my address.

That would be pretty weird.

He advised me to call the city again and double-check that they have my correct address.

I scoffed.


I've been paying my water bill from this address for years. The same address that receives the water and trash pick-up services the bill represents. The city couldn't possibly have the address wrong.

They had the address wrong.

The same polite woman I spoke to in the morning realized somehow the "street" in my address got changed to "avenue."


How did that happen?

It's a mystery.


Also, a reminder of the realities of bureaucracy. Typically, the service I receive from my city government is pretty good, but there's not much you can do about it when it isn't so good.

I can choose my cellphone service. I can pick a new insurance company. I can't choose a new water provider, and there are times when the government makes that painfully clear.

To comment on this article, visit

Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Rob Port column sig
Rob Port

Rob Port column sig
Rob Port

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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