City of Austin utility agencies issue apology for high water bills, announce plans to credit customers affected

Austin Water publicly issued an apology Jan. 31 for unexplained high water bills.

Austin Water publicly issued an apology Jan. 31 for unexplained high water bills.

Austin Water and Austin Energy apologized Wednesday morning after discovering meter reading errors for over 7,000 customers throughout the city.

Customers throughout the city complained about unexplained high water bills in September 2017 after receiving relatively low bills in August 2017.

In a press conference streamed through Fox 7, agency officials confirmed the unusual pattern in high water bills and issued an apology to all customers.

“Today, we are here to apologize to those customers and we are here to acknowledge their instincts about their water usage patterns,” said Jackie Sargent, Austin Energy general manager. “After a lengthy and in-depth investigation, we have the data to confirm that customers’ usage patterns were unusual, lower in August and higher in September. We are here to announce what we plan to do to respond to this situation and our commitment to improving customer service for all of our customers.”

Greg Meszaros, Austin Water director, echoed a similar sentiment adding the city's committment to accuracy, especially with a tiered water system.

“Austin Water has a tiered-rate structure, which bills more for more water that you use, so accurate meter readings, billing and water-use tools are very critical for our customers and we are committed to taking all the steps for that [accuracy] to happen into the future.”

Remedying the situation

Kerry Overton, deputy general manager and chief customer and compliance officer for Austin Energy, said the city has identified administrative process changes to help improve the accuracy of meter readings and data management. The entity has also identified a financial solution and implemented a system that will issue refunds for overcharged customers.

  • Overton said at this point, every meter reading will be immediately photographed.
    “This is crucial because it will also show us the GPS positioning of the meter reader and it will also give us one additional indication for back-up to confirm the read that went into our system,” Overton said.

  • The city will begin adjusting bills for 7,400 customers if their September usage exceeded their August usage. This will be done by "smoothing," or averaging of two months worth of bills. If smoothing results in a  reduction of a customer's total bill over those two months, the city will issue a credit for the difference.

  • Drema Gross, division manager at Austin Water, said the average credit for the 7,400 customers who will receive adjustments is around $20. Around 700 of those customers whose bill was three times higher their historical usage will be notified of additional remedies they may be eligible for, including the high-water bill administrative adjustment.

“We should’ve found this problem faster and we should’ve had systems and procedures in place to alert us of this issue sooner,” Sargent said. “We are committed to an improvement in customer service. Correct billing, excellent customer service and accurate data are all things customers should expect. These are things I expect. We apologize to those impacted by the situation and we hold ourselves accountable for improving our process so this does not happen again.”



For a third consecutive semester, Texas public school districts will not be penalized financially due to declining enrollment and attendance as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, due to an extension of the hold-harmless guarantee, state leaders announced March 4. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas leaders ensure financial stability for public school districts through spring semester with hold-harmless extension

The guarantee also ensures that Texas school systems can retain their teachers for the 2020-21 school year for whom they originally budgeted.

Winter Storm Uri caused restaurants across Austin to close due to power outages and unsafe road conditions. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Energy GM Jacqueline Sargent resigns from ERCOT's board of directors in wake of winter storms

Sargent's departure follows a trend of resignations from the agency that oversees Texas' power system.

Central Texas Food Bank
Central Texas Food Bank announces distribution sites in March following winter storm

The Central Texas Food Bank is holding food distribution events throughout March for local residents experiencing food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lingering effects from damage caused by Winter Storm Uri.

Courtney Manuel (center), I Live Here I Give Here executive director, and and board chair Kathy Smith-Willman (right) stand with Edward B. Burger, St. David's Foundation executive director, during Amplify Austin Day 2020. (Courtesy Trent Lee Photography)
Here's how to support Central Texas nonprofits during ninth annual Amplify Austin Day on March 4-5

The annual 24-hour giving campaign will begin at 6 p.m. on March 4.

People wait in line to receive a vaccine at an Austin Public Health vaccination site. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas offers COVID-19 vaccinations to school, child care workers

Educators, school staff and child care professionals are qualified to receive coronavirus vaccines effective immediately.

In response to Gov. Greg Abbott's March 2 announcement that Texas' statewide mask mandate and COVID-19-related business restrictions will be lifted as of March 10, the Texas Education Agency released updated public health guidance March 3. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Updated Texas Education Agency guidance allows individual school boards to determine mask policies

"Under this updated guidance, a public school system's current practices on masks may continue unchanged. Local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy," the release reads.

H-E-B will continue to require employees to wear face masks until further notice. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
H-E-B to require employees, ask customers to be masked despite upcoming expiration of governor's mandate

H-E-B officials announced their employees and vendors would still be required to be masked while on the job, and customers would be encouraged to wear masks while in stores.

Photo of DSISD headquarters
See the latest school zone options under consideration for Dripping Springs ISD

Adjustments between February and March included making students from The Views at Belterra community eligible to attend Rooster Springs Elementary School.

Snapology is hosting camps in person this summer. (Courtesy Snapology)
2021 Southwest Austin and Dripping Springs summer camp guide: 37 options including virtual and in-person offerings

Our list of camps happening in Austin and Dripping Springs this summer includes options focusing on academics, arts, sports and language.Our list of camps happening in Austin this summer includes options focusing on academics, arts, sports and language.

Photo from inside a movie theater
Alamo Drafthouse files for bankruptcy, closes theaters in downtown Austin and New Braunfels

Most theaters will remain open under an asset purchase agreement to the company's senior lending partners.

Jeanne Cooper (left) and Melissa Greenwell opened C'est Chic in 2009. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gift shop C'est Chic has been a presence in the Southwest Austin community for more than a decade

C'est Chic owners Melissa Greenwell and Jeanne Cooper met in 1995, when both their children attended Kiker Elementary School, and opened the store in 2009.