A San Diego City Councilmember is looking to build a bridge of trust over the troubled water meter controversy.
This after hundreds of customers came forward, claiming they were overcharged, some by hundreds of dollars for water they never used.
In addition to complaints, NBC 7 Responds obtained public records showing property owners who filed claims for damages from the city, stating they were overcharged for water services.
On Monday, Councilmember Chris Cate released suggested changes to city policies surrounding how the Public Utilities Department operates, in hopes of improving transparency and rebuilding customer trust that may have been damaged after hundreds of complaints about high water bills.
Some of Cate’s suggestions include:
- Annual reviews of the Public Utilities Department’s finances/budget
- Annual performance indicators that accompany the department’s budget review, including the number of customer billing complaints received, the average time it took to respond and resolve complaints, number of abnormally high water bills and water bill investigations, water bill estimations, and metrics for non-water bill complaints
- Provide written notice to customers when water bills are based on estimated readings. Cate is suggesting this written notice be provided prior to the next water bill being issued.
- Hiring a customer service consultant to help with improving customer service practices
NBC 7 Responds first began looking into complaints regarding high city water bills last July when a Pacific Beach homeowner said her water bill had spiked from an average $50-150 to over $400 in the course of a single billing cycle.
Since then, the problem has grown with NBC 7 Responds hearing from homeowners across the city saying they experienced the same billing issues. Of the billing complaints the water department has reviewed so far, officials have said on average, homeowners have received $500 refunds. The highest refund issued was over $11,000.
Through a public records request, NBC 7 Responds found 11 property owners have filed claims for damages from the city, all surrounding water overcharges.
In one claim, the property owner states a “dramatic increase in water usage/bill even though [there were] no changes in usage or leaks.”
Claims like these are often a first-step before filing a lawsuit.
San Diego City Auditor Eduardo Luna is currently in the midst of a three-part audit of the Public Utilities Department, focusing on customer water billing, service and the implementation of the city’s new smart water meters.
The audit was requested by Cate after customers in his district came forward with high water bill concerns.
“I’m not satisfied how this has gone,” Cate told NBC 7 Responds Monday, regarding the implementation of the city’s new smart water meter program. “This has been a project for nearly a decade now and we need to do this right.”
For months, NBC 7 Responds heard from customers who blame the city’s new AMI smart water meters for their billing problems. The city has repeatedly denied the new meters have anything to do with billing complaints.
In one case, a La Jolla woman’s new meter was installed incorrectly with mismatched parts, leading to her being charged for five-times the amount of water she was actually using.
NBC 7 Responds asked the Public Utilities Department for reaction to the suggested changes and will update this article when and if a spokesperson gets back to us.