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Probe: January 5, 2001

January 05, 2001

QUESTION: I bought a hot water heater at HomeBase in El Centro a couple days before the New Year.

When I opened the box at home, the heater was dented and the pipe was broken. Within an hour of buying it, I took it back to the store.

They wouldn't return my money or even let me exchange it for another one. I called HomeBase's corporate office in Los Angeles. A corporate official said the El Centro store had to take it back.

Well it wouldn't take it back. The manager pointed to signs all over the store that said: "Final clearance."

My family went through the holiday weekend with no hot water.

I called HomeBase in Los Angeles again. This time the official gave me the phone number for an appliance store in Yuma that sells the same brand of water heater. I called the store and the Yuma dealer said he would exchange the heater for another one.

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Why should I drive all the way to Yuma to exchange a water heater I bought in El Centro? — Craving A Hot Shower, Holtville

To get a hot shower.

The manager of the El Centro HomeBase, who begged us not to use his name, said HomeBase no longer owns the merchandise in the store. A liquidation firm owns it.

"The liquidators gave strict orders that all sales are final and ‘as is.' They said no refunds and no exchanges," the manager said.

That's more news PROBE readers can use. If you buy something at HomeBase, better check it carefully.

QUESTION: I have lived in this house for seven years. My water bill normally runs about $10 a month. In the last four months I had one bill for $12, one for $11, one for $6.50 and a whopper for $84. The big bill was stuck between the $12 and $11 bills.

I called the Coachella Valley Water District and the district sent a man to check my house. The district refuses to believe the big bill is a mistake.

I can't pay this big bill. If I don't pay the water district is going to cut off my water tomorrow. Several people told me to talk to PROBE. They said sometimes you take care of such things. — Big Trouble, Salton City

PROBE has no resources to take care of big water bills. Sometimes we can coax an agency to restructure payments so a family is not left without power, or in your case, water.

Sometimes a PROBE angel will be touched enough to pick up the tab for an overdue bill. That's not something we or you can count on.

Dennis Mahr, spokesman for the water district, said you had worked out payment terms to keep your water running for now.

However, the district stands by its contention that you used the water and must pay for it.

The district employee who checked your place said water was running through your meter while he was there.

He said you probably had a leaking toilet, but you must have repaired the leak because your bill dropped the following month, Mahr conceded.

START COUNTING — In a Voice of the People letter, an El Centro woman wrote: "There is no legitimacy to the Gore victory theory. The numbers show the Florida electoral votes went to the correct candidate. Talk of ‘stealing the election' by sore losers should be stopped." To that woman, I say, "Let the count begin!" — Sore Democrat, El Centro

There's no way to stop Democrats from charging the Republicans stole the election or to keep Republicans from insisting that everybody must stop whining and be nice.

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