Shockingly high water bills still hitting some Cambridge residents by Chris Herhalt KW Record

By  | January 28, 2015 | 0 Comments | Filed under: Cambridge Water Billing Issues

Another Publication by Chris Herhalt..

And this one, which didn’t go online for some reason:

 

Nearly four years after the City of Cambridge took over water services from the local hydro utility, residents continue to receive exorbitantly high water bills with little or no recourse.
Since last year, various Cambridge residents have received water bills that were as much as 14 times higher than average.
And according to a response to an access to information request made by The Record in September,

the City of Cambridge does not track the number, location and dollar amount involved in each complaint they have received as a result of the steep water bills.
“Water billing complaints are not tracked, they are responded to immediately, ” city staff wrote Sept. 18.
But in response to questions posed Oct. 6, Cambridge‘s director of financial services, Jonathan Lautenbach, wrote in an email that less than one per cent of the 270,000 water bills Cambridge processes each year result in a complaint.
In July,

Tonya Broomer and her husband received a bi-monthly water bill that should have been somewhere around $80.

It was $1,300.
There is no Jacuzzi, swimming pool or any other thirsty appliance at Broomer’s home.

Even when her two children lived at home, bi-monthly water bills rarely surpassed $120.
The city politely told her to pay up.

Puzzled and angry, Broomer wrote a letter to the City, Cambridge

MPP Kathryn McGarry, and the Cambridge Times, which the newspaper published.
“The water department basically said ‘thanks for letting us know, you have six months to pay the bill, ‘” Broomer said.
After the letter was published, a representative from the city came to Broomer’s home, to check the house’s water meter and troubleshoot.

The meter was found to be working properly.
“He was very pleasant but as far as the city goes, we were supposed to receive a report and we never received anything, and we were basically told ‘too bad, you have to pay it.’”
Cambridge councillor Frank Monteiro says the issue has reached the point where the city will call in outside help.
“They’re going to hire a consultant to see what’s going on – what are we doing wrong that we could do better.”
Regarding the fact that the city says it does not track water billing complaints, Monteiro said “they’ve been dealing with each bill individually.”
Monteiro thinks the shocking water bills are caused by the fact that the water department sometimes relies on estimates of water usage, rather than meter readings.
Along with many other Ontario municipalities, Cambridge contracts out the work to check each property’s water meter, and the meter checkers sometimes skip a periodical check because they can’t access the home.
“You can do that for one billing, but for the next billing, you should go out and get an actual reading, ” Monteiro said.

He spoke of one home in his ward where the City was using a three-year-old water meter reading to estimate the bill.
Couple the lack of a reading with a leaky toilet or water softener, and a homeowner could be slapped with a massive bill, Monteiro said.

The city says it offers homeowners a free outside remote to deliver water readings.

It also allows residents themselves to phone or email in water readings.

Residents can also request a water meter check by email at any time.
“It’s bullying, you’re told to pay for something you obviously did not use, ” Broomer said.
The city plans to bring in a consultant to examine water billing policies after the Oct. 27 election, and Lautenbach said the consultant will receive details of each bill dispute to assist in the investigation.
When Mike and Mel Nieson received a $371 water bill for two months of usage, the city told them to pay it, or it would be attached to their property tax bill.
“They told us basically whatever the meter reads, that’s what you have to pay, because if they adjusted it, it would affect the rest of the city, ” Mike Nieson said.
Lautenbach said that contrary to what has been reported, the City of Cambridge has not put a lien on any property in order to collect a water bill.
A report on the matter is expected in the winter of 2015.

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