Tampa City Council not satisfied with presentation from water bills task force

03/17/11 Seán Kinane
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Some Tampa water customers received unusually high water bills around the end of last year. Today a task force formed to figure out the cause of the spike presented a report to the Tampa City Council. But Council members weren’t happy that they did not have time to read the report they were given this morning before the presentation. Darrell Smith, the city’s chief of staff, summarized the report’s findings.

"Unusually dry and cold weather conditions, twice a week watering, and the implementation of two new high tiers resulted in the extraordinary water bills that we've encountered. Customer complaints and high bill investigation overwhelmed the Water Department that was in the process of simultaneously trying to consolidate, relocate, and establish new policies and procedures to increase supervision and accountability for the accounting division. Explanations for high bills were difficult because of the confusing bi-monthly meter reading process and a lack of confidence by customers in the accuracy of water meters, the software billing system, and the meter readers."

Tampa’s utilities administrator, Steve Daignault, said ending estimated bills every other month would improve accuracy.

"Monthly meter reading is going to be the single most big improvement that we could do for our customers. Estimates will, essentially, go away when we do that and that's been a big part of the problem both in interpreting your bill and in calculating your bill. The time between actual reads will go from 60 days to 30 days so if you heavily water or you have a problem or you have some kind of usage occurring that you're not aware of it'll only be 30 days instead of 60 days or more before you see some tangible evidence of that. So you'll have reduced exposure to high bills, customers will have these dead meters that will be found sooner."

But Council members, like recently re-elected Charlie Miranda, weren’t happy about the water bill task force’s report.

"First of all, I'm not prepared to even discuss this item because I just received it this morning ... and I can say that my colleagues are not really prepared to speak on this because we just received it. I haven't even read it and I don't like to discuss things I've never read, that's number one. Number two, anytime you did an audit with accuracy, and I appreciate the work that you've done here, you've always had an exit conference with your clients. Your clients, in this case, are the seven members you're looking at now. Like you did with the Lowry Park Zoo, that was never done in this case. I'm not happy about that at all. Not to you, to the whole system."

Council voted unanimously to continue the water bills task force discussion until next Thursday’s meeting.

Previous WMNF news coverage of high water bills

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