I-Team investigation: Is that meter correct?

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The I-Team investigates if anyone is checking whether or not you're getting what you pay for

Have you ever wondered if the meter in a taxi cab was right? How about whether the butcher really gave you a pound of meat? Or propane. Has your tank ever felt a little light after you got it filled up?

You may not have connected the dots, but the same state agency is responsible for checking all those things, and much more.

The State Department of Agriculture's "Weights and Measures" Division is the consumer's best friend in North Carolina, when it comes making sure anything weighed, measured, or counted is done so correctly. State inspectors are out every day, mostly looking at gas pumps and weight scales in stores. Inspectors try to get to every pump and scale in the state once a year; and by and large, officials say they get close to that.

But there are pages of things inspectors aren't out looking at - literally. And it all comes down to money.

WATCH: What is the state not checking?
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North Carolina doesn't check taxi meters and a host of other things.



"Certainly I'd like to see more dollars put in," said Steve Benjamin, Director of the Weights and Measures Division. "There's just things we can't get around and do."

Benjamin has a staff of 44 inspectors for the entire state. They're responsible for checking every weight and measuring device in their district. Larger counties, like Wake and Mecklenburg, have one dedicated inspector; most counties share one. They have a list of things they must check and a longer list of things they don't.

"There's quite a variety out there that would legally fall to us," said Benjamin, "I just don't have the staff to do it."

Click here to see the complete list of things that "legally fall" to the state's Weights and Measures Division

The list of things the state doesn't check includes parking meters, washers and driers at laundromats, electric meters and water meters.

"You have to remove the meter and replace it with another one, at that time" Benjamin explained. "So there's that complication for the home or business operator, then you have to have the testing apparatus at a lab to do it. I have none of that."

What's more, in most of the state, taxi cab meters go uninspected. Only in Raleigh and Rocky Mount are state inspectors doing field tests to certify taxi meters. That's because only those two cities have asked the state for help. And Benjamin says that's ok with him; he wouldn't have the manpower to do the whole state. "I think we'd be deputizing a lot of city workers."

Because of limited staffing, Benjamin says most of their investigations come from consumer tips. A few years back, they were alerted of an issue with blueberry boxes; it turned out customers were getting short-changed.

The same thing was happening with firewood.

"We had a complaint about a bundle of firewood that didn't have enough wood in it. It's sold by the cubic feet and this one dealer was complaining about another. We went out and found out he was correct. But actually, they were both wrong." Benjamin says they wound up doing a sweep of all firewood dealers in the state. "Some of them maybe were guessing. On those packages, it says .5 or .75 cubic feet. That's what you're buying. In some cases, it needed one more piece of split log in there. And some weren't even sure what that meant."

The upshot is that Benjamin says fraud is rare. In fact, he says in his 14 years on the job, he's never seen a case where someone tampered with a weight, scale, or measure to squeeze a few more cents out of unsuspecting customers. "I think most manufacturers try to do the right thing."

Benjamin says he'd like to see more money in his budget to be able to get to more things and that's something people we asked on the street uniformly agreed with.

"I would hope that someone's out here checking," said Raleigh's Alex Zajdel as he fed money into a parking meter. "Honestly, I don't give it much thought but it's one of those things that, if no one's giving it any thought, it would be easy to shave off minutes if no one's checking."

That's something Joell Perry, just around the corner feeding a parking meter of her own, squarely agreed with.

"You work hard for your money. You need to know what's going on because 50 cents could be a lot."

You can contact the North Carolina Weights and Measures Office at 919-707-3225 or visit their website at http://www.ncagr.gov/standard/. You can also visit their Facebook page here.

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