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City Moves to Investigate Austin Water Billing Complaints

waterhose.amorton.jpg
amorton via flickr
After customer complaints, the City of Austin has called in a third-party to examine bill complaints from Austin Water customers.

Some City of Austin residents have recently seen high water bills compared to previous months – as much as four times the typical amount by some accounts – and some are wondering if the city’s at fault.

Council member Don Zimmerman says he’s been getting calls from residents in his district for about three weeks, and they keep coming in. Other districts are seeing the same problem. Zimmerman says he’s concerned by the fact that the city contracts with a third party to do its meter readings, a company called Corix Utilities.

“One of the ways to investigate this is when you have people out in the field reading meters, they’re typically supposed to keep some kind of field log that shows what area a meter-reader was in on a certain day,” Zimmerman says.

But the city recently audited how this company does its meter-readings. In May and June, Austin Energy made surprise visits to where meter-readers were working and collected their own readings to make comparisons. Austin Energy found that roughly 98 percent of the time, the readings were accurate. So why have some folks had to pay, in some cases, triple what they paid last month?

“All of the stats and all of the data is bearing out the same fact: that people just used too much water in August,” says Carlos Cordova, a spokesperson for Austin Energy. He says the Austin area got lucky in May and June, experiencing a record amount of rainfall, and that people may have forgotten about water conservation.

Cordova says his own water bill last month was four times the normal rate. The City Manager has ordered an outside audit of the city’s customer billing system and to thoroughly investigate billing complaints, of which there are many.

The city’s received so many calls about high water bills that they’ve set up an information page where residents can find out more.

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