Drowning in water bills: Some Saratoga residents overbilled for water usage

 

Zachary Laux

Saratoga/Carbon County Impact Joint Powers Water and Sewer board members Will Faust, left, and E.J. Glode listen to community comments during the July 10 meeting. Community members had voiced concerns about irregular water bills. Mayor John Zeiger is encouraging residents who have questions about their bill to visit or call town hall.

Some Saratoga residents experienced higher than usual water bills due to computer software compatibility issues in Saratoga Town Hall.

“There are still some issues between the two — the billing software and the meter reading software,” Schwerdt said.

The town uses three programs in the new radio-based water metering system which was installed in 2010: FlexNet, the water meter reading program, Sensus, a user interface program and Caselle, the town’s billing software.

According to Town Clerk Suzie Cox and PMPC engineer Ken Schwerdt, something unexpected is happening when meter readings are manually inserted into the billing software.

“For instance when I pull this up, it will show that I used 30,000 gallons. Caselle billed me for 49,000. Where that discrepancy comes in for sure, I don’t know,” Cox said.

Cox said she has been in contact with Sensus, the manufacturer of the system and software, to correct the problem.

In a July 10 Water and Sewer Joint Powers Board meeting, board members voted to uphold looking at irregular water bills on a “case-by-case” basis until the next meeting. The motion warns and urges all Saratoga residents who have irregular water bills to see Cox, where she will manually change the bill reading.


Cox said she addresses irregular water bills by looking at water usage in previous years for said customer. Cox then adjusts the bill accordingly.

However, several community members and some board members were concerned with that solution.

Board member E.J. Glode said some Saratoga residents, especially older residents, may pay the bill unquestionably.

“A lot of people that age get their bills and write their check and they’re done with it. They don’t study it,” Glode said.

Glode said he felt “uneasy” charging residents for a potentially incorrect bill.

Community members who attended the meeting suggested an alternative where the town bills a flat rate for all water usage, ensuring no one would be overcharged. However, some board members had concerns about that as well, stating the town would have to charge triple for a flat rate.

The suggestion also goes against town ordinance which states consumers get 7,000 gallons of water for a base fee of $26.50 per month. Further usage is subject to an increased base fee, plus an additional fee per 1,000 gallons. According to the ordinance, the costs vary depending on levels of water usage. The ordinance, revised in 2012, also states fees can rise 3 percent each year “in order to allow the town to recapture water revenue shortfalls.”

Board member and chairman Donnie Price said, if water meter issues were not addressed within a month, the Water and Sewer Joint Powers Board may have to take additional action.

“If we still have this problem for July, we will have to look at knocking a percentage off their bill or” paying a minimum fixed fee, Price said.

The water meters themselves also have an on-going problem. In the past, about 20 percent of the radio-based system was not broadcasting. However, the town and PMPC are making progress, Schwerdt said.

Schwerdt said only about 45 water meters were still not reading, only about 5 percent of the system.

“Every month that (number) is coming down a little bit, so there is steady improvement,” he said.

Schwerdt said the system also has a problem in leak-detection, a new feature that came with the installation of the new water meter system. When the system detects a leak, it will sound an alarm at Town Hall. However, the system is not accurately reading leaks.

Schwerdt said he is confident the system will be reading accurately by the end of July.

Editor’s note: this in the first of a series of stories relating to water usage and systems in Saratoga.

 

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