Last summer, some Austin residents received sky-high water bills that city water department had calculated using inaccurate data. Unfortunately, because Austin Utility was ill-equipped to deal with the situation, many of these residents’ complaints are still caught in an administrative morass.
But relief may be on the way. According to a recent Statesman report, these residents may get a chance to clear up the mess. So could other households that their find future water bills went awry.
Earlier this month, City Council Member Ellen Troxclair, in tandem with Austin’s water department, proposed that the city offer deep discounts to affected homeowners. This would apply to all situations where the city could not find any specific cause — such as a leaky or broken pipe — to account for the spike.
Specifically, her proposal would target situations where a resident’s water bill more than tripled on a specific bill. If Austin Utility could not immediately find an obvious cause for the increase, it would cut the extra water use listed on the bill in half.
If enacted, the proposal could reduce some abnormally high water bills by as much as 75%. This is because Austin’s current water rates are “tiered.” This means they rise substantially at higher thresholds of water use. The one catch is that customers could only file an appeal once every two years.
Some council members have expressed concern that some residents could try to somehow “game” the system for their own benefit. But Troxclair countered this claim with assurances that her proposal has enough fail-safes to guarantee that no one could take advantage of the situation.
Last year, approximately 3.4 percent of Austin city water meters produced incorrect readings. Only a tiny handful of the individuals affected decided to go through with a lengthy and expensive appeals process, which requires both parties to engage lawyers.