Over-Billed Austin Water Customers May Get Relief

AUSTIN — Austin Water customers could soon have a way to fight back unexplained charges. More than 1,000 said last summer they were charged for water they did not use. Donna Ahrens was one of those customers. She said she kept her automatic sprinkler system off most of last year. Last September, she received three water bills for the month of August after receiving no bill the month prior. “One bill for $1,100, one for $0, and one for $1,600,” Ahrens said. Austin Water billed her for using 56,000 gallons of water in a month. The utility sent crews to her house to investigate. “They said there was nothing wrong with their systems, and the meter reading was fine,” she said. “They sent someone out to check on my sprinkler system, and that said my sprinkler system was fine.” Still on the Hook More than six months later, Ahrens is still on the hook for Austin Water’s $1,600 bill, even though the utility has not been able to justify the charge. “In total, we believe our system is very accurately measuring and billing for water,” Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said. Meszaros said the utility has safeguards in place to prevent over-billing customers. He said the billing system automatically flags abnormal meter readings; the utility requests its vendor to return to the home and check the meter a second time. A recent audit found the utility to be 96.6-percent accurate. District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair said that means errors show up on 7,650 meter readings a month. “Right now, there is nothing in place for a customer who maybe receives a bill that is three, four, five times the water bill that they’ve ever received in the past,” she said. Administrative Adjustment Process Troxclair wants to give customers recourse. Her plan would require the utility to review the account over the previous two years, focusing on the month in question. If an error can’t be determined, half the over-charge would be forgiven, but the customer would still owe the other half. “There’s a balance between wanting to make sure that customers are protected and creating a program that isn’t just open to abuse,” Troxclair said. Customers would have to sign a form swearing they did not use the amount of water they are challenging. Homes with pools and sprinkler systems would face more scrutiny since they are more prone to problems. “I’ve gone through all of their hoops and there still has not been any resolution,” Ahrens said.

Source: Over-Billed Austin Water Customers May Get Relief

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Author: Stephen G. Barr, Group Publisher

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