Tampa City Council does away with hefty water use fees listen02/10/11 Kate Bradshaw
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For weeks, hundreds of Tampa residents have been up in arms about exorbitant water bills. Today, the Tampa City Council voted to change the way the city bills heavy water users. But Council member Mary Mulhern said she doubts the measure would make much of a difference.
She said she thinks about ten percent of those complaining of inexplicably high water bills might benefit. Today’s votes did away with the most severe aspects of a billing system that penalizes water users who consume to excess. The tiered billing system charged the heaviest users $16.38 for every 748 gallons of water, and those in the second-highest tier paid just under $11 for the same amount. Mulhern said she doesn’t believe everyone whose water bill increased from two- to ten-fold used enough water to fall into those tiers.
Council Chair Tom Scott said he’d like to know how many people were billed in the top two tiers, and how that compares with the number of complaints.
Scott, who is running for mayor, added that he talks to people daily about their exorbitant water bills. He said one city water customer’s high bill was apparently the result of an incorrectly installed usage meter.
Council member Charlie Miranda said the entire system needs to be examined.
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio ordered the emergency meeting to scrutinize the utility’s billing practices. Tampa Public Works director Steve Daignault said a city task force charged with auditing the Tampa Water Department’s billing protocol is looking at every aspect of the process.
Some council members said they may call for an independent review of the utility’s billing practices if the audit results are not satisfactory. The city has already investigated some of the high water bill complaints. Daignault has insisted for weeks that the every bill spike can be traced to a sole cause.
Tampa resident Albert Carswell said his bill jumped inexplicably last October.
Carswell said his complaint pales in comparison to other cases he’s read about. He added that he doesn’t think abolishing the top two billing tiers will do much in the way of solving the problem.
This isn’t the first time Tampa’s water utility had had a billing anomaly. In January of last year, the St. Pete Times reported residents of a New Tampa development went for a decade without being billed for irrigating their lawns. It was later found that nobody had bothered to install water meters. The results of the audit are expected to be out March 17.