Failing water meters still causing inaccurate bills - abc27 WHTM

Failing water meters still causing inaccurate bills

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Failing water meter batteries continue to cause a steady drip of inaccurate water bills for Harrisburg residents. The Harrisburg Authority are juggling repairs with upset residents who are being overcharged.

Every time the faucet is turned on, it costs money—most know that much. But what many Harrisburg homeowners may not know is that their estimated reading on their water meters are resulting in inaccurate monthly bills.

In November, The Harrisburg Authority (THA) took control of the city's water and sewer systems as a result of the court-approved recovery plan. The billing still runs through the City Treasury for the time being. Also in November, THA presented to city council some issues regarding failing water meter batteries. At that time, it was estimated that 6,000 batteries needed replaced in Harrisburg.

In November, abc27 spoke with Thorin Burgess about his estimated water bill. Burgess said after nine months of a low or zero balance his bill jumped to $998. Others tell abc27 their bills went from $90 a month down to $9. One resident said they received a credit for being overcharged at times.

THA Executive Director Shannon Williams said replacing the batteries has been a slow process due to this winter's weather, focusing on water main breaks and overall transition. According to THA's January report, 160 batteries were replaced. However, the report said of 21,696 attempted meter readings in Harrisburg, 12,937 returned back with readings, and 18 meters were missing.

Williams said the majority of the problem stems from dying batteries. Most of the water meters were installed in between 2000 and 2003 using a battery with a 10-year life span. Williams said the city did little upkeep and maintenance over the years. Currently, THA workers are noticing more than just failing batteries.

"We're also finding other problems with the meters; for example the meter itself may not working properly," said Williams. "So we need to do a little bit of extra work on that."

The special batteries cost about $8 and cannot be replaced by residents. Williams said THA is responsible for replacing and repairing the meters due to liability. As soon as THA realized that a battery resulted in an inaccurate reading, THA notifies that resident.

"The protocol is to send a letter to those folks as soon as we get that information, notifying them their next bill will be based on the actual reading or the estimated read," she said.

Seeing that almost 8,700 household failed to provide readings, that means a sizable number of future bills will most likely be skewed. But, thus far many residents say they never received notice from THA about a possible issue.

In THA's 'Water Meter Battery Replacement' presentation to city council, which can be found on their new website, specifically noted the problem would have immediate communication for increased bills. But, why not inform all residents they could be subject to higher bills?

"We did not send out a blanket letter, no," said Williams. "Blanket mailings are very expensive. We felt that if it was just a blanket letter, it may get ignored."

Williams said THA believed a targeted letter after the fact would cost less and have the most effective impact. THA has also setup a 12-month payment plan for those overcharged. Williams encouraged residents to call THA's billing department at 1-888-510-0606.

What could make matters worse, water and sewer rates went up 27-percent when THA took over the city's system. This change was also a part of the court-approved recovery plan, but residents will start seeing higher bills soon.

Williams said cash has not began to roll in just yet on the $26.9M Pennvest Loan THA was granted last summer. And, all that money must be used toward treatment plant upgrades.

As for battery replacements and repairing water meters, Williams said she urges residents to understand THA is trying their best to fix the issue.

"We knew there was going to be bumps in the road, and we do ask for patience," she said.

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