The city typically offers residents the ability to have their bills adjusted if they submit a form saying they had a leak, but City Manager Austin Bleess said it made sense to perform some adjustments automatically in light of the storm. The preemptive adjustments will be made for all residents whose bills were higher than average by 5,000 gallons or more, which Bleess estimated would affect a little more than 300 people. Some bills were up by as much as 24,000 gallons, he said.
"It relieves them of some of the headache and the paperwork process,” Bleess said at the March 4 meeting.
The city will automatically adjust bills for those people, and others who did not reach that 5,000-gallon threshold can still reach out using the typical system for adjustments if they had a leak, Bleess said.
The City Council opened the floor to citizen comments prior to the motion, but no members of the public signed up to speak. The city could potentially take a $20,000 hit from the adjustments based on the cost the city pays for wholesale water. In supporting the motion, Council Member Bobby Warren said $20,000 was "a nominal amount considering the pain and the staff time it would take to process all the requests."
Bleess said he asked the North Harris County Regional Water Authority to waive its fees. The NHCRWA was established by state law in 1999 to oversee projects that will help convert parts of north Harris County from groundwater to surface water. The agency is funded by fees charged to member cities and municipal utility districts. At the time of the storm, the authority's rates were set at $4.25 per 1,000 gallons for groundwater and $4.70 per 1,000 gallons for surface water.
When reached for comment March 5, an official with the NHCRWA's emergency phone service said the authority has been experiencing high call volumes and could not immediately provide information on whether it plans to waive fees. This article will be updated with new information as it becomes available.
The Houston City Council is expected to take up water bills at its March 8 meeting. However, officials with the Houston Public Works Department have told people to pay what they paid on their previous bills until automatic adjustments are applied. In Pearland, city officials agreed to bill residents the lesser of last year's usage or this year's usage for their February bills.
Water payments are due on or before the 25th of each month in Jersey Village.