City leaders call for new Austin Water audit

Austin City Council (KXAN)
Austin City Council (KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Wednesday’s Public Utilities meeting was an intense one as city leaders continued to put pressure on Austin Water for answers. They wanted to know what changes were made after KXAN brought a 2014 audit to their attention this week that listed many of the same problems. Wednesday night, we’ve learned the utility is calling for a new, external audit to finally get to the bottom of things.

Wednesday, we learned the average water usage for customers in Austin has actually dropped every year since 2010. In the city’s 2010 fiscal year, each customer used on average more than 8,000 gallons of water. But this year, customers used on average just over 5,700 gallons of water.

City leaders, specifically councilwoman Ellen Troxclair wanted to know why a 2014 audit with several recommendations was never brought to her attention this year, something she didn’t even know about until we showed her earlier this week.

Councilwoman Troxclair asked Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros, “Is there a reason why this wasn’t mentioned before when we said hey we think there may be some of the same issues with meter readings or hey there might be issues with not identifying leak?” It seems like this would’ve been nice for us to have,” she said.

Meszaros says an audit will be done by an outside party not associated with the city. In addition, he said changes were in fact implemented after the 2014 audit which included double-checking a mass majority of city meters after they were read. But some customers say that’s not enough.

Barbara Szalary, a resident of Austin was at today’s meeting and has been dealing with high bills now for months.

“We’ve got senior citizens… people really struggling and they’ve tried to come to Austin Water and say we don’t have a pool or an irrigation system, we’re not watering lawns. We feel like Austin Water doesn’t take us seriously,” said Szalay.

The director of Austin Water says that audit is expected to begin in the next two weeks and should be complete by January. You can count on us to tell you what happens.

It’s important to keep in mind Austin Water rates went up in January and many people didn’t notice the difference until late this summer. Water rates also just went up again on November 1. And the more you use, the more you pay.

According to Austin Water, a homeowner will pay just over $3 for every 1,000 gallons of water used up to 2,000 gallons. But if you use between 2,000 and 6,000 gallons of water, the rate will go up to nearly $5. And if you use between 6 and 11,000 gallons of water, the rate jumps to nearly $8 per 1,000 gallons. And there are even higher rates for using more water… up to 20,000 gallons.

This afternoon, the General Manager of Austin Energy announced his resignation. Larry Weis has taken a job in Seattle at Seattle City Light.  His last day with the city of Austin will be January 31, 2016.

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