By Macy Jenkins

LINCOLN (CBS13) — The city of Lincoln is in hot water over an unpaid utility bill. Now, residents are wondering how it happened.

“They’ve just been caught, and they’re making a lot of excuses,” said Ted Jones, a Lincoln resident.

The city has already agreed to refund citizens for paying inflated water bills last year. But at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Mayor Stan Nader had a surprising admission for the crowd.

“It recently came to my attention that the 2017-2018 budget is the first to contain a revenue line item for the city’s municipal water use,” he said.

In other words, the city of Lincoln hadn’t been paying its water bill.

“This is keeping the grass in our parks green, it’s the sinks running in our fire department and our police department,” said Kathryn Hunt, a city spokesperson.

Hunt says the error was made long before current city leadership took office. And, right now, the city is unsure just how long its water bill has gone unpaid. Their solution?

“Our mayor Stan Nader and our city council directed our city attorney to start a fact-finding mission into that particular issue,” Hunt said. “We don’t have all those answers.”

But Jones told CBS13 he thinks the city was aware it wasn’t paying for water at all.

“Let me tell you this,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that know. That they’ve been doing this for a long time.”

Jones is a member of L.I.F.T, a local group dedicated to keeping their government in check. He told CBS 13 he thinks city manager Matt Brower has been intentionally non-transparent with the public.

“[He’s been] manipulating numbers and just playing games!” Jones said. “They’re trying to just buy time and they ought to just come clean!”

But if residents have been paying their water bills, while the city still owes on its own, where has the money been going?

“All of the money that’s paid for water bills goes into our water utility fund,” Hunt said.

However, it’s still up in the air whether or not Lincoln will use this money to pay for their newly discovered water bill in the future.

The city told CBS13 the council is committed to finding out what happened and making sure it is corrected in the future. Part of that investigation is figuring out who would get the money if there is any to be paid back.

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