Fort Worth water customers just got easier access to a little-used program that makes adjustments for unexplainable high water bills.
District 3 Councilman Brian Byrd says that too few residents know about the program and has pushed for more transparency.
On Friday, a link on the department’s website was added for customers to find answers to questions about how the program works, and how to report a high bill.
“Transparency helps build trust,” Byrd said in a statement. “Transparency will make our ratepayers aware of the process for having the instance reported and investigated.”
The city’s Water Department has had the program for awhile. It credits a resident’s bill after a review can’t pinpoint a cause for it being so high. The bill is simply classified as an “anomaly.”
“Occasionally, we have residential customers who experience a one-month bill that significantly exceeds the normal usage for that account,” said Kara Shuror, assistant water director.
But the credit is not always a sure thing if requested. It takes about 30 days for the department to do a review before it agrees to make an adjustment. Customers are required to fill out and sign a form. Moreover, a high bill can only be reported once every 24 months.
“We want to be fair about this,” said Fran Peterson, the Water Department’s customer relations manager. “You always want your customers to feel that we’re not a monopoly. We want to have a good, respectful relationship. This is a way to show we’re there for them. If there’s a problem, we need to identify the problem.”
There are some rules. Among them, a customer must be in good standing and have 13 consecutive months of water service at the address being reported; it can only be a single month’s bill; and, the customer was billed for water usage greater than two times his or her average water use for the same billing periods in the previous three years, the city said.
If the department agrees the bill is a fluke, the adjustment will be 50 percent of the difference above the average water use for the bill in question, the city said.
The Water Department has about 247,000 customers, of which 223,000 are residential accounts. Annually, the city processes 2.9 million billing statements.
Between Oct. 1, 2016, and Sept. 30, 2017, the city’s fiscal year, the department adjusted 373 unexplained high water bills, amounting to $139,046 credited to the customers.
In fiscal 2016, the city made 284 bill adjustments for $199,453 in credits, and in the same time period of 2015, it handled 405 adjustments for $212,911 in credits.