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"We recommend that W&WW perform actual meter readings and bill customers based on those actual meter readings..."
February 25, 2012 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Linda Stewart has a mission. After discovering discrepancies in the water billing for two of her Baltimore properties, Linda Stewart, also known as "WaterBillWoman", began to look more closely at billing across the whole city.

According to the Baltimore Sun: "This week, the city released an audit that showed that 92 percent of water customers reviewed were overbilled — and most of the homes studied in the audit have received no credits for the excessive charges. Baltimore's Department of Public Works plans to issue more than $4.2 million in water bill refunds...For Stewart, the revelations served as a vindication."

Says Stewart: "I started looking into it, and I saw that everybody's getting incorrect water bills, and the city is just letting them pay. I haven't stopped because I see people losing their homes over incorrect water bills."

The summary and full audit [pdf] are available from the City Comptroller's website. From the summary: "Numerous customers had received consecutive quarterly bills that were based on estimated usage rather than actual water meter readings. Many of those customers had received consecutive quarterly estimated billings for as much as 4½ years. According to a report that we obtained from MOIT as of November 10, 2010, there were 18,266 metered water accounts, out of approximately 411,000 active accounts, with at least four consecutive estimated quarterly billings (8,480 with four consecutive estimated quarterly billings; 2,991 with eight consecutive estimated quarterly billings; 4,117 with twelve consecutive estimated quarterly billings; and 2,678 with eighteen consecutive estimated quarterly billings). We recommend that W&WW perform actual meter readings and bill customers based on those actual meter readings in accordance with Article 24, § 1-2(b) of the Baltimore City Code... "
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike (20 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Her website, with data in Excel spreadsheets, can be found here.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:36 AM on February 25, 2012


Don't know if it's the same, but years ago at my old house they misread my water usage and charged me $300 for the month (usual was like 1/20th of that). They demanded payment, so i payed, then they discovered it was an error. Wouldn't refund it, but did credit me for it, so i didn't have to pay for many, many months. Still annoying as hell though. I know i'd be beyond pissed if they didn't even credit it, or lost a house because of their error. That's just wrong.
posted by usagizero at 10:36 AM on February 25, 2012


"Department of Public Works" means "the government" doesn't it?
posted by three blind mice at 10:50 AM on February 25, 2012


I used to work for a company that created utility billing software. We had a lot of water districts as our customers. Most of them freaked out if they had to estimate one month, much less every billing cycle for 4.5 years. This just blows my mind all to shit. They wouldn't have paid the $4.2 million in now found overages in payment to meter readers, much less the lawsuits and fallouts that are gonna hit the Public Works office there in the city, especially if they control other utilities that are guaranteed to get audited next.
posted by deezil at 10:57 AM on February 25, 2012


I expect this plotline to feature heavily in the long-awaited sixth season of The Wire.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 11:02 AM on February 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


Hey if you don't like the service, get your water from a different company!
posted by Legomancer at 11:18 AM on February 25, 2012


Assuming actual meter readings will cost some money to implement, I wonder what the overall savings will end up being for customers. Sounds like they're short almost 400,000 meter readings. If each of those costs $10 to do, the overall cost of water bills, while more accurately distributed to those who are using the water, might not change much at all.
posted by scottreynen at 11:59 AM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sme municipalities use estimated billing. I worked for one that would perform an estimate every year. The customers were told which month the metering would occur. Based on that month, you'd pay the same amount per month for the rest of the year. I found it odd they'd announce the month. To me it would encourage saving that month for a lower ill, then you could over consume for the rest. It was also a winter month. No idea if they kept an eye on the other months for excessive usage.
posted by narcoleptic at 12:01 PM on February 25, 2012


They use a winter month because it's also a sewer estimate. Your garden-watering/pool-filling/car-washing doesn't enter the blackwater system. So they measure when you're unlikely to be doing those things.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:39 PM on February 25, 2012


Sme municipalities use estimated billing.

Where I live, they bill you based on estimated usage. The estimate is based on previous usage, size of abode, number of people living there, and some other factors of which I'm probably not aware. But they get a reading every year, and then you pay the extra (or get a refund) based on the yearly reading of actual usage compared to what you already paid. It seems to me to be a good system.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:44 PM on February 25, 2012


This is hard to relate to because in my city the meter reading is done by an automated device on the meter that calls home via a telephone line. It's powered by a lithium battery and you get an estimated reading only if that battery fails or your phone line is down. The city gets quite aggressive about letting them in to troubleshoot if you have more than two months of estimated readings. So this seems nuts.
posted by werkzeuger at 12:44 PM on February 25, 2012


So the city will be refunding the money. I wonder exactly who put it in their pocket?
posted by BlueHorse at 1:49 PM on February 25, 2012


This is actually just the lost 6th season of The Wire.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:09 PM on February 25, 2012


And someone already said that. Sorry, I get excited when I get the chance to make jokes about The Wire.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:10 PM on February 25, 2012


I expect this plotline to feature heavily in the long-awaited sixth season of The Wire.

OMAR PLUMBIN!
posted by Blue Meanie at 3:37 PM on February 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


For years the local water company sent me a postcard to read my own meter, or call it in. If you did your own reading, they took a dollar off your bill.

A few years ago, they replaced the meter with a meter that the water guy can read by just driving by, which they do 2-3 times a year.
posted by Marky at 4:40 PM on February 25, 2012


I once worked cell phone customer care as a temp. An old woman called and wanted to go over her bill in excruciating, letter-by-letter detail.

There were many cost codes that no one in the building could explain to me. All little things, just a few cents here and there. But they were being billed.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:58 PM on February 25, 2012


Cool Papa Bell writes "There were many cost codes that no one in the building could explain to me. All little things, just a few cents here and there. But they were being billed."

This is why I have pay as you go cell service; seems to be the only way to not get fee'd to death.
posted by Mitheral at 6:02 PM on February 25, 2012


Well, I lost my house due to poor utility maintenance and estimated billing. I had managed to keep the house after my divorce (with 25K in inheritance money in it). I was managing all the bills okay, albeit with virtually nothing put away, when I get a letter from the local utility.

It basically said "Oh hai! It looks like our gas meter is broke ass shit, and, since we were too lazy to keep tabs on it, we're just going to sock you with whatever wild ass number comes in our heads. Oh, and please pay up NOW or we turn everything off."

Said wild ass number was enough to kill my budget and put me a month behind with my assholish mortgage provider my ex-wife had picked. (The same people that called me up when the bank they were attached to misprocessed an in person payment, then berated me for not making the payment and threatened me unless I fixed the problem. Which was not caused by me in the first place.) That lead to me never being able to get caught up, which lead to, well, you know.
posted by Samizdata at 10:19 PM on February 25, 2012


If one "Utility" is owned rent is 4 times amount shown on dice.
If both "Utilities" are owned rent is 10 times amount shown on dice.
Mortgage Value $75
posted by Fizz at 5:38 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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