AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin City Council Member Ellen Troxclair says she’s still receiving complaints from constituents about abnormally high Austin Water bills. Earlier this week, she requested an audit of the accuracy of the city’s water meter reading. She says the audit will give the city a better idea of how many of the unexplained high rates might be coming from inaccurate readings. Troxclair says it could take be a couple of months before the city receives the audit results.
Troxclair is also proposing a resolution to refund 100 percent of unexplained overages in bills that are three times higher than property owners’ or leasees’ normal rates.
“We’ve seen an outpouring of complaints about unusually high water bills yet again this year,” Troxclair said.
Troxclair originally pushed for 70 percent refunds of overages in 2016. Now, she says 30 percent more than the average rate is still too much for taxpayers to be charged without any explanation.
“The 70 percent was put in place because that’s what the leak refund policy was, so the water department thought that it would just be more consistent if we kept it the same,” she said. “But, once it was brought to my attention that people were still paying that 30 percent, and that they weren’t able to qualify for an administrative hearing if they didn’t want to pay that 30 percent, that’s when I knew that we needed to put the administrative hearing request back in place and allow for people to get a full refund.”
Troxclair says in March, Austin Water quit accepting requests for hearings from utility customers who didn’t qualify for an automatic adjustment to their high bills. In order to qualify, a customer’s must have at least a year of service history at the same address and must have gotten a bill at least three times as much as their average billing statement.
“So what about people whose bill is really unusual, two-and-a-half times anything that they’d seen in the past?” Troxclair asked. “I want to make sure that people have that recourse available to them, so I have been able to talk to the water department and the legal department and they’re reversing that decision. They’ll be reaching out to people who have been denied that ability and ask them if they would like to pursue an administrative hearing.”
Since the refund program was implemented last year, 581 customers have had a total of $150,000 refunded under the current high water bill adjustment program.
“It’s important that we make sure that we’re reducing the number of errors to begin with,” she said. “In those unexplained circumstances, we want to make sure people, especially those on fixed income, you know, families that are really careful about their monthly budgeting, to really not be hit with the sticker shock of an unexpected bill.”
Council members will vote on Troxclair’s resolution to increase overage refunds to 100 percent on Tuesday, Nov. 7.