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City of Palestine responds to report of water meter overcharging

PALESTINE, August 18, 2014—The City of Palestine has issued a press release in response to a report, which surfaced Friday, regarding water meter overcharging.

The report, by Bob Herrington on the Friday morning broadcast of KNET’s Meddling in the Morning with Bob and Darla, highlighted independent water meter test results which showed a consistent pattern of overcharging. Former Mayor Herrington also reported the City of Palestine first received the test results in May, 2013, and have not taken action to address or correct the issue.

The City of Palestine has issued a press release in response to the report. The release is as follows:

In 2014, City Council identified “Improved Customer Service” as one of their top priorities for the city. In an effort to accomplish this goal, the customer service department was reorganized in early 2014. Responsibility for meter reading, repairs and testing were shifted to the Utilities Distribution department. This added nine more staff members to help with these actions and to improve accuracy on all levels.

The allegations that consumers are purposefully overcharged on water bills is untrue, but there is a potential that some meters may have had or are currently experiencing an error. These errors could affect a portion of residential consumers and are addressed continuously by customer service and the Utilities Department.

“We are not denying there could be meters that experience an error but there are many factors that affect why a meter reads high and low. It could be a defective meter, a clogged filter, a dying transponder, or a leak that no one is aware of, and we examine any possible answer when a customer brings it to our attention,” said City Manager Wendy Ellis. “At the end of the day, we want to provide good water service to our customers. We believe the reorganization is helping elevate the level of service we provide.”

The city is in a continuous process of addressing the meter errors and because the city already rounds down to the closest 1000 gallons consumed, consumers have a cushion in the billing process to protect them from some overages.

For example, if a consumer uses 5000 gallons of water per month, the meter would have to read more than 20% high or over 6000 gallons before the bill would be affected. Users that receive a minimum usage monthly bill would need the meter to read over 50% more than actual usage before billing would be affected.

Approximately 65% of residential customers are billed for 5000 gallons or less per month, indicating the majority of consumers would probably not notice a change in their billing.

Meters are read electronically and when an error occurs a manual read can be made to determine actual usage. If the city flags the re-read or tests the meter there is no charge, however, if the consumer requests a re-read and no error is found there is a $16.50 charge.

“We can manually read any time a customer feels their usage is incorrect,” said City Secretary Teresa Herrera, “and if we find it is our error we issue a credit to the account. We have a process in place to note spikes in consumption that would indicate a leak but a true meter error would not be flagged by our department because usage would remain constant month to month. Anyone who calls for a meter test is not charged for the service.”

The city has used outside agencies to test meters through the years. The previous city administration contracted with Trane Inc. to conduct a random test of 145 meters to determine if the meters were reading accurately. All tested meters were replaced with new meters and the majority of those households have shown a steady usage comparable to usage prior to receiving the new meters.

Meter sizes tested:

2” meters – used primarily by commercial customers and testing found them to be operating primarily within American Water Works Association (AWWA) parameters.1.5” meters – used in a mix of commercial and residential customers and testing found them to be operating primarily within (AWWA) parameters. 1” and 5/8” meters – used primarily by residential customers and testing found potential for inaccurate readings of water flow.

The city says it’s important to note that water accounts are not an income generation for general city operations. The purpose of the rates is to cover current costs for the utilities operations, create the ability to address maintenance, and, to hopefully, improve the system.

Consumers are encouraged to contact customer service if they have questions about their bill. Due to the recent media coverage, the city advises that wait times may be longer than usual as call and walk-in volume has increased. “Our customer service staff is our first level of communications, and will do their best to address each and every concern,” said Ms. Herrera.

Customer service can be reached by dialing 903-731-8400 and choosing option 1

KYYK's Gary Richards spoke with City Manager Wendy Ellis about the issue. Click below for more.

Original Story

PALESTINE, August 15, 2014—The City of Palestine may have an issue with overcharging when it comes to water meter reading, according to Bob Herrington, as first reported Friday morning on KNET’s Meddling in the Morning with Bob and Darla.

Apparently, independent water meter test results obtained through an open records request filed with the City of Palestine on July 29, show a consistent pattern of overcharging. According to the results, 106 meters were tested and 67% of those, two thirds, are overcharging from 4% to as high as 208%. The breakdown by percentage of overcharging meters is 32% in the 4 to 10% range, 13% in the 11 to 19% range and 22% of the meters are overcharging by 20% or more (total of 35% overcharging 11% or higher) The largest single overcharge is 208%.

According to Former Mayor Herrington, the test results, first received by the City of Palestine in May, 2013, have never been made public, and no action has been taken by the City to address or correct the issue.

To hear Friday’s broadcast of Meddling in the Morning with Bob and Darla, click here. Discussion on the issue starts at 1:29:46.

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