Community pillar and beloved Fort Lauderdale resident ‘Big Mama’ dealing with suddenly massive water bill

Usually, the woman affectionately known as Big Mama is the one lending a helping hand, but now it's her who needs help.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Usually, the woman affectionately known as Big Mama is the one lending a helping hand, but now it’s her who needs help.

“I’m a grandmother, I am a mother, I’m a friend,” said Essie Reed, though calling her by her actual names feels almost disrespectful.

Big Mama has been bringing big smiles and drawing big crowds in South Florida for years, hosting toy and clothing drives, even food giveaways.

Not even a pandemic could stop her.

“I do everything to help my community,” she said.

That’s what makes a nagging past due water been even harder to accept.

More than a year ago, Big Mama’s bill began ballooning from nearly $400 to nearly double that the next billing cycle, to nearly $2200 when the next bill arrived.

“I don’t use that kind of water,” she said. “My bill runs like $170 - $180, the most maybe $200, a little more.”

Brennan Reed is Big Mama’s son.

“It’s frustrating,” he said.

Reed showed Local 10 News a payment the family made for $838.21, leaving the balance from the bill at $1340.53.

He said that payment was made to avoid water service being disconnected.

“It’s almost like they’re trying to run over the little person,” said Reed. “We’re not about to allow anybody to run over us.”

Reed told Local 10 News’ Layron Livingston that he personally met a City of Fort Lauderdale worker outside his mother’s house last summer after the family made a request to have their meter inspected.

“(The meter was) going wild, just spinning,” he said.

When the city worker asked Reed where the water was going, Reed told him, “I don’t know because we’re not running any type of water inside.”

Reed said the same technician replaced the old meter with a new one.

“Ever since this went into the ground, everything has been balanced,” he said. “Back to normal.”

Local 10 News reached out to the City of Fort Lauderdale about Big Mama’s bill.

A spokesperson told Local 10 that water usage at Big Mama’s house was 27,000 gallons in March of 2020. The next month, it went up to 60,000 gallons.

The spokesperson said unusually high readings indicate either excessive consumption or, more commonly, a leak.

The city said it could adjust the high-reading balance, but Big Mama would have to get a plumber to certify if there was, in fact, a leak.

Reed doesn’t feel they need to hire someone to find a leak, “Because my bill proves it.”

According to the city, Big Mama’s old meter was tested and found to under report usage.

The city said it gave her a list of agencies that offer bill-pay assistance to Broward County residents.

Big Mama said  she was offered a grant to do just that, but that it wasn’t her money to take because she believes her bill should have never been that high.

About the Author:

Layron Livingston made the move from Ohio's Miami Valley to Miami, Florida, to join the Local 10 News team.