Cedar Park completes water bills audit

An audit lasting nearly two months showed higher water bills did not result from errors in the city’s utility billing processes, accountant Robert Belt told Cedar Park City Council on Dec. 3.

Belt is a managing partner with Belt Harris Pechacek, CPA, an auditing firm the city hired in October to conduct an independent audit of the city’s utility systems. The investigation came after many residents said their September utility bills for August water usage were much higher than expected. Residents shared their complaints on social networks and with calls to the city.

Belt said the higher bills were directly related to actual water use. Residents watered lawns less after spring rains, then began watering their lawns more in late summer, Belt said.

“When you have drought conditions, people water their yards more [and] when you don’t have drought conditions, they [water] less,” he said. “Then you get that sticker shock of how much it costs to fill up your pool [or] how much it costs to water your yard.”

Belt said auditors surveyed water billing trends, bill calculation methods, city costs for plant operation and meter measurement methods.

“[We] went out and inspected 20 meters, actually for the 20 highest consumptions, residential consumptions,” Belt told the council. “The auditor that performed the work [said] that those were the greenest yards in all of Cedar Park. … One of the 20 yards we looked at, they were actually watering when we were doing the work, and it was not an allowed day for [watering].”

Auditors also said data showed the city was meeting its goals of promoting water conservation.

City relaxes outdoor watering restrictions

As of Dec. 1, Cedar Park residents can water lawns two days each week rather than one day and should also see a 9 percent drought surcharge removed from water bills.

Cedar Park City Council recommended Nov. 19 that City Manager Brenda Eivens decide to switch the city from stage 3 to stage 2 restrictions because of spring and fall rains. The city had stayed in stage 3 since August 2013. Stage 3 also included the drought surcharge, which city staffers said was meant to make up for lower utility revenue from customers using less water.

The change means residents with even-numbered addresses can water lawns on Thursdays and Sundays, and residents with odd-numbered addresses can water on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The city allows watering after 7 p.m. or before 10 a.m.

Rainfall has increased Lake Travis levels and brought Central Texas out of drought conditions for the foreseeable future, Assistant City Manager Sam Roberts told the council.

“Texas is now pretty much drought-free except for a few isolated areas,” Roberts said.

Other cities, such as Leander, have already approved relaxed rules for outdoor watering. However, Cedar Park was waiting for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to approve the Lower Colorado River Authority’s water conservation plan, Roberts said.

LCRA manages water storage in Lake Travis, which Cedar Park and other cities uses for water.