News Feature | July 11, 2018

Baltimore Probes 'Shocking' Unproductivity Of Meter Readers

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

An audit by Baltimore officials has found that water meter readers wasted $120,000 through unproductive activities and slacking on the job.

“For over a year, Baltimore’s water meter readers would get a list of jobs at the beginning of their shifts. When they were done, workers either drove around aimlessly or went home instead of getting more work to do, a city investigation found,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

“Investigators with the city’s Inspector General’s office say the result was that over the course of 20 months, taxpayers paid $120,000 in wages for hours when the employees were doing no real work. The Inspector General’s team uncovered the practice using GPS records from the workers official vehicles to plot their locations,” the report continued.

Isabel Mercedes Cumming, the inspector general, called the results “shocking.”

“We had them tracked to their homes or just driving around,” Cumming said, per the report.

The audit also found that the Department of Public Works unofficially condoned the practice, the news report stated.

Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for the public works department (DPW), said the department is taking the findings seriously.

“DPW has already begun reviewing our standard operating procedures, and tightened oversight of employees so that these findings will not be repeated. Appropriate disciplinary action has been taken in these instances,” he said. “The ratepayers who entrust us with their money expect our best efforts, and we will always strive to meet that goal.”

This is not the first time Baltimore metering has come under scrutiny. In 2012, two meter readers reportedly turned in phony numbers, causing inaccurate billing, The Sun previously reported.

And more recently, “a meter technician was found to be stealing scrap water meters and selling them at scrap yards, costing the city $30,000. The technician pleaded guilty to theft and sentenced to three years’ probation. In May he was ordered to pay restitution to the city,” The Sun reported.

As water officials consider implementing alternatives to meter readers, utilities report that cost is a top barrier, according to Forester Daily News.