The head of Baltimore’s water department told City Council members Wednesday that he expects the problem of disputed water bills to be greatly improved next year thanks to the rollout of smart-meter technology.
Rudy Chow, the city’s director of public works, told the council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee that the department has progressed significantly in his six years running it.
“We are making a tremendous amount of progress in terms of getting ourselves into a regular state where water billing isn’t a problem on the technology discontinue or customer service,” he said.
The city introduced original meters in October that can degree how much water a customer uses hour by hour and beam back information to the water department wirelessly. It also began sending customers monthly bills at that time. Previously, the department’s crews were deployed to read meters every three months.
Chow said approximately 1,000 properties attain not maintain the original meters installed because they need additional maintenance or infrastructure work done first.
Chow faced questions from several of the committee members approximately problems with bills, which maintain long dogged the city and users. Councilman Brandon Scott said the issue was the top problem for his constituents.
“This is the No. 1 complaint we rep in the city,” Scott said. “People don’t complain approximately violence in Baltimore; they complain approximately water bills.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh said she, too, has concerns approximately the billing process.
“We’re examining our whole water bill system,” Pugh said Wednesday. “I maintain gotten enough complaints now to know that that is something we should retract a real close examine at.”
Pugh, who took office in December, said she has been talking with City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young approximately what changes could be made to the system, including past-due bills triggering tax sales. The cost of redeeming a property in tax sale over an unpaid water bill and a special account to assist property owners are items up for discussion, she said.
“We don’t want people to rep so far in arrears that they can’t recoup,” the mayor said. “We maintain to be careful how we examine at this. We’ll retract an in-depth examine at the water bill system and how we deal with it.”
The stakes are high because whether a customer doesn’t pay the bill, the city can sell a lien on their property at the annual tax sale, which can ultimately lead to an investor foreclosing on the property.
Some 1,000 homeowners faced that prospect this year, and the system has also swept up some city churches.
Scott told Chow that the department needs to resolve any outstanding problems as quickly as possible.
“We don’t maintain time because people are losing their houses, people are losing their businesses,” he said.
Chow said most of the billing problems the department is now dealing with stem from issues with the venerable system. Under that system, the department had few ways to defend itself against claims of overbilling, Chow said.
Now when people maintain complaints, the department’s customer service workers can walk them through the bill, showing precisely how much water they used.
“We maintain salubrious information to defend and actually illustrate the usage that occurred,” Chow said.
The department still allows customers to appeal bills but will only give a reduction once every three years for interior leaks and once every two years for underground leaks.
“What we want to instill is accountability,” Chow said, saying that homeowners need to retract care of their faucets and toilets just as they would the rest of their homes.
Councilman Ryan Dorsey asked Chow approximately three high-rise buildings that maintain had original meters installed but had yet to rep a bill.
Chow didn’t maintain information approximately the specific buildings but said his staff might maintain had a question approximately the bill and pulled it to review.
“We don’t just say, ‘Well, bill it in whatever amount,'” he said. “We’ve been criticized in the paper enough times approximately that.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.