On Wednesday Rody Chow, director of the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, told City Council members that disputed water bills may be improved by next year with the implementation of smart-meter technology.
Chow has been running Baltimore’s water department for six years and he said it has progressed considerably over that period.
“We are making a tremendous amount of progress in terms of getting ourselves into a steady state, where water billing isn’t a problem on the technology end or customer service,” he said.
New water meters were introduced in October, which are capable of measuring water usage hour by hour. That information is sent back to the water department and water bills are sent to customers simultaneously. Prior to the introduction of the meters, the meter readers were sent out every three months to read the meters.
Nearly 1,000 properties require extra infrastructure and maintenance work before they can receive their new meter.
Councilman Brandon Scott said problems with water bills are the top problem for his constituents.
“ This is the No. 1 complaint we get in the city,” Scott said. “People don’t complain about violence in Baltimore; they complain about water bills.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh is also concerned about the water billing process.
“We’re examining our whole water bill system,” Pugh said Wednesday. “I have gotten enough complaints now to know that that is something we should take a real close look at.”
Pugh is working with Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Council President, trying to find changes than can be made to the system, including unpaid water bills that trigger tax sales. Other items up for discussion include the costs of regaining properties in tax sales over overdue water bills and setting up a special account to help property owners.
The city has the right to sell liens on properties belonging to people, who do not pay their water bills. The tax liens are sold at the annual tax sale, which will eventually lead to an investor foreclosing on the property.
This year alone nearly 1,000 property owners faced losing their home due to unpaid water bills and churches were swept up by the system, as well.
Customers can appeal their water bill, but discounts for interior leaks are only available once every three years and underground leaks once every two years.