“You have to go through it, to truly understand how broken the system really is” – Baltimore City Tax Payer
Over the past few years we have heard many speculations about the water meters and their billing system.
We have heard of taxpayers being overcharged and undercharged. It has been stated that new meters are being installed as you read this story. A small percentage would say that the whole system is being revamped and it will be fixed over time. After personally living the water bill tsunami, I would agree with others in the position that the water bill system is a broken system.
On April 27, 2012, I received my water bill for one of my rental properties in the amount of $713.47 due by May 28, 2012. I immediately called the Baltimore City Water Bill Department at (410) 396-5398. I spoke with a representative and she stated “someone will be out before May 15th to check the meter and the reading”. At that time I asked her for a confirmation number to confirm that the call took place.
Problem #1 – I was informed that the agency do not have a system in place to confirm or give confirmation that a request have been made by a consumer/customer to ensure a response for a cause of action to exist.
On May 15th, I telephoned the water bill department to check the status of the initial complaint. I was informed by a representative that a member of the water department came out on May 9, 2012, and reported that the meter was working properly and that the meter reading was correct. I informed the representative that there were no water leaks in the home, and that I have worked in the construction field for the past 10 years, so I am fully aware of what to check for and how to check for leaks. I informed the representative that there could only be two problems, either there is an underground leak or the water meter is broken. She then put me on hold for a very long time, came back and stated that she talk to her supervisor and that I would be receiving a new meter. I then asked the representative, “Well how old is the meter?” She stated “It was installed in 1977”.
Problem #2 – Why is the City of Baltimore still using water meters that was installed in 1977 or eariler? What mechanical devices can sustain normal operations for 35 years? Airplanes, cars, hot water heaters, stoves, refrigerators, light fixtures, furnaces, air condition units or any mechanical device that I know of cannot sustain its usage for 35 years, so how does the City of Baltimore expect water meters to give accurate readings from a 35 year old device that most likely never been upgraded or received any maintenance.
Problem # 3 – A bill over $700.00 is not a leak; the water is running non-stop at this point. This bill is more than 5 times the average bill received at this home that I have owned since 2007.
The solution that the representative gave me was to request an informal hearing with an individual by the name of Ms. Rathmann, to see if I could get my water bill corrected. The request had to be faxed to (410) 396-5531 with a signature and date. I then ask the representative the response time that I should hear something back from Ms. Rathmann?
Problem #4 – The representative could not give me a timeframe (24 hours – 2 weeks) in which I would hear a response. She just stated that Ms. Rathmann was good about responding.
After talking to the water bill department, I contacted my City Council Representative, Baltimore City Council President’s Office, and the Baltimore City Mayor’s office. All three responded within the hour, and the best response came from the Council President’s Office. An email was sent to the department head of public works. The department head contacted me within 15 minutes. He stated that the new meter would be installed within 10 – 14 business days, and that if the meter reads different after the meter is installed, they would correct the bill. He also stated that he would personally address this issue, and to contact him directly with any concerns or with checking the status. The Mayor’s office did call within 15 minutes also and gave me a good point of information which is that you can call 311 and request an audit of your water bill, and at that time you will receive a tracking number for reference and I was told to ask for an Informal Hearing.
As I receive progress on this situation, I will keep you posted with updates. Furthermore, as I was going through this situation, I thought about the seniors who are enduring similar situations, also the parents who work two jobs to feed their children and cannot spend time making telephone calls all day to correct a problem that are out of their control. Lastly, I thought about individuals who have lost their homes because the meter readings were incorrect or were read from a meter that was 35 years old and installed in 1977. For these reasons, I felt it was imperative to share this unfortunate story that many Baltimoreans are experiencing with “A Broken System”.