Austin residents who experience an unexplained spike in their water bills may be eligible for a partial refund after an Austin City Council vote April 7.

District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair said the new refund policy was a response to more than 20,000 calls Austin city offices received related to high water bills.

“It became clear to me we needed to put a process in place at the city level ... so that going forward we wouldn’t be put in this position again, so the customers felt like they were protected and they weren’t going to be blindsided,” Troxclair said.

Residents who are billed for an unexplained spike in water usage more than three times their average usage will now be eligible to apply for a credit of 50 percent of their water usage and may apply for the credit once every two years, Troxclair said. Prior to the new policy, residents would often need to undergo a hearing process to obtain an adjustment for their bill, which sometimes cost the city as much as $500 per hearing, city staff said.

Troxclair said the new policy is similar to the city's leak protection policy and is also similar to a water bill refund process employed by the city of Houston.

During the meeting City Council also voted to amend a covenant on the historic Dabney-Horne House at 507 W. 23rd St. so that the house can be moved to make way for student housing.

Council also passed an ordinance that limited public comment time at City Council and committee meetings to 90 minutes per topic. The pubic comment item was passed on first reading only, which means council members will have a chance to make changes to the policy before it is fully passed and adopted.