Computer Errors Lead to Overflow in Some Billerica Water Bills
BILLERICA -- When Donna DiFabio opened her water bill last week she was in for some sticker shock.
“Where am I going to get $1,700 to pay a water bill?” she said. “I said this has got to be wrong.”
DiFabio is still trying to settle her water bill, however she may be among the 180 people Town Manager John Curran said received incorrect bills due to an error related to the transition to the town’s new electronic meters.
According to Curran, the electronic water meters are not directly responsible, but the transition from the old meters to the new meters led to an error in a program used by the town’s water billing department that overcounted some resident’s sewer usage.
“This billing cycle did include 180 bills that did not register the irrigation meter read,” a press release from the town stated. “If your bill has zeros all the way across for the second meter it is likely your bill has this error.”
Curran said he does not expect the issue to continue for future billing cycles as installation of the new meters winds down.
“It’s a one time thing,” he said. “It had to do with the transition.”
The error caused some residents to be charged sewer rates for all the water they consumed, despite much of this water not going into the sewer.
In one case, a resident used 34,000 cubic feet of water during the billing period, with all but 2,000 cubic feet being used to water the lawn, according to Curran. Due to a program error, the resident was charged as if the whole amount went into the sewer, resulting in a roughly $2,100 overcharge before being adjusted, he said.
As for DiFabio, she said her water bill is generally between $200 and $400. Her most recent bill represents a significant spike to $1,712, including over a thousand dollars in sewer charges, according to DiFabio.
Last week, Curran said the town is sending out letters to adjust the bills of people affected by this error.
This issue only affected a fraction of the town’s water customers and high bills could be the result of other factors, according to Curran.
He said residents typically use more water during the most recent billing period, which includes summer months. This is also the second bill since a 3 percent increase in water rates and a 7.6 percent increase in sewer rates took effect.
Additionally, like last billing period, some residents were billed for an extended read. If a resident consumed over 2,000 cubic feet of water and their billing period exceeds 120 days, they’re eligible for an adjustment, according to Curran.
Though the $4 million proposal to install new electronic “smart-meters” passed with an 80 percent majority at spring Town Meeting last year, the proposal was not without its critics.
Resident Deedee Dorrington petitioned to make the meters optional, saying residents should be able to choose what technology goes into their homes. Her third attempt to pass a bylaw to opt-out of these electronic meters was voted down at fall Town Meeting last year.
Town officials said the meters would improve the method of water billing, help detect leaks and allow residents to track their water usage.
So far, about 11,000 of the 13,000 water meters in the town have been replaced, according to Curran. The town hopes to complete the process by the end of January, he said.
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