Water Bill Forum: Taking on the Water Department over outrageous - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Water Bill Forum: Taking on the Water Department over outrageous bills

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SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) - Frustrated San Diego residents on Thursday got the chance to spout out about high water bills at a forum in Mira Mesa. 

The meeting, at the Mira Mesa Senior Center and organized by City Councilman Chris Cate, provided not only a chance for water customers who believe they were overcharged to vent, but also to try and get answers from the Public Utilities Department. 

Its leader acknowledged the inconvenience of the sky high water bills hundreds of customers received - some overcharged by hundreds of dollars. 

The utilities department provided on site meetings with customers to try and resolve their billing issues. 

RELATED: Many News 8 viewers see sudden jump in water bill

The Water Department told customers it would work as fast as possible to credit or write refund checks. According to the department, if the amount needing to be refunded was less than $50, it would be done in the form of a bill credit. If the amount is over $50, a refund check would be provided.

The City Public Utilities Department announced last week that 343 customers were overcharged as much as $420 due to misreading, potentially answering questions that had left residents dumbfounded.

The internal review of higher-than-normal water bills, followed several News 8 "Your Stories" reports on viewers who received skyrocketing bills.

"We need the results and recommendations of this audit to come as quickly as possible, so we can act on any of those recommendations," said Mayor Faulconer.

A team of six auditors have been assigned to review billing procedures and determine what, if any, role smart meter technology played in billing inaccuracies.

PUD's director has also been asked to do his own review of the department.

Lorie Zapf, head of the city's audit committee, joined the mayor Thursday in expressing why this audit is a top priority.

"What we're learning now is really very troubling and there is mounting evidence of serious questions about the management of water bills and the unfair treatment of residents - and this has got to stop," said Zapf.

Zapf and other council members have been receiving complaints for months from their constituents.

At News 8, we too have spoken with people all over the city with high bills - some in the thousands - that can't be explained.

Last week, the PUD admitted human error played a role in overcharging nearly 350 customers an average of $300.

But the affected area only included Carmel Valley, Mira Mesa, Rancho Bernardo and Rancho Peñasquitos.

Leaving everyone else to wonder what will happen with their bills.

Councilman Chris Cate was the host of the public forum in Mira Mesa Thursday where customers could come face-to-face with PUD officials.

It's the first one of its kind since News 8's water investigation began.

The city is implementing several measures to help ensure accuracy of water bills: requiring PUD supervisors to sign off on daily reports from meter readers, adding security protocols to ensure only certain staff can input data, improving automated alerts that flag spikes in water usage, adding a second spot check review of meter reads to ensure accuracy and adding an informational insert in water bills about how customers can read their own meters, according to the mayor's office.

Other reasons why customers' bills could have increased are a 6.9 percent rate jump that took effect on Aug. 1, a one-time billing schedule change that extended the normal 60-day billing period to up to 70 days late last year, warmer months that could contribute to increased usage, and leaks in homes and irrigation systems, according to the mayor's office.

For those rate payers who were unable to attend Thursday's forum, City Council President pro-tem Barbara Bry will host a similar forum in her district next week. The meeting will be on Wednesday, February 21st at 5:30 p.m., at the La Jolla Library. 

Water customers are encouraged to contact the City with questions or concerns at 619-515-3500 or customercare@sandiego.gov.

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