The City of Austin has announced that they will provide bill credits to 7,400 customers who suffered from high water bills due to water meter reading problems.
“We should have found this faster and we should have found it ourselves. We should have had better safeguards against unreasonable water meter reads,” said Jackie Sargent, General Manager of Austin Energy.
According to the City of Austin, they found that adding bill credits to the 7,400 people statements for their averaging water use between August and September resulted in a lower bill.
The bill credits will average approximately $20 but will not exceed $80 in most cases and the total credit to customers will be around $138,000, according to a statement from the City of Austin. The city also plans to change the way meter readings are recorded. From now on, technicians will take a picture of the water meter as it is read, as a way to provide further documentation of the usage.
After the KVUE Defenders' published stories regarding unhappy customers, the City of Austin took action and put together a detailed investigation regarding the high water bills issue.
The City of Austin found that there were problems in the way that customers were assessed for water in August and September 2017.
Here are the results of their investigation:
- The pattern of low-August/high-September usage is not explained by weather, as most of August was generally a hot, dry period followed by a cooler September.
- The pattern of low-August/high-September was found clustered on 135 of 1,080 meter-reading routes.
- Of the roughly 32,000 residential customers along these routes, approximately 7,400 were charged more for the two-month period than if their use had been equally spread across the months, and will see a bill credit as a result of the smoothing process.
- The pattern occurred at a time of transition between two vendors that read City water meters. The September readings were read by the new vendor, Bermex. The August reads were conducted by Corix Utilities.
City of Austin Utilities will send a letter to affected customers by Feb. 15. These letters will also notify approximately 700 customers who had significantly higher September use than in previous years and who may qualify for an additional High Bill Administrative Adjustment if their elevated use was unintended or unexplained. The City encourages customers with the low-August/high-September pattern to wait until Feb. 28 to receive a letter. The City anticipates that all eligible customer credits will be applied to bills by March 15.
There are also changes for all water customers:
- There is a new company reading meters across Austin. Bermex has the new contract with the city which started in September. Corix is cooperating with the city's investigation
- Technicians will now take pictures every time a meter is read
- The city has it's own control team which will randomly go around reading meters to make sure the contracted company is reading them correctly
- Austin Water has also invested millions to install smart meters which within the next five to seven years will allow meters to be read electronically and remotely like most other water companies in our area currently do.