News Feature | March 6, 2017

Camera Catches Questionable Move By Cleveland Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

cleveland reg new (1)

A media outlet claims that the Cleveland Division of Water was caught on camera using improper billing practices.

“An exclusive News 5 hidden camera investigation reveals how the Cleveland Division of Water continues to bill a customer hundreds of dollars despite a water meter that is ‘not properly functioning,’” News 5 Cleveland reported.

Cosmo Beradinelli is the customer in question. He received a $3,000 water bill in November and called the department about the total. He was reportedly told it was not a mistake. It took three months for the department to check his meter.

"I just kept getting the runaround, nobody was calling me back," Beradinelli said, per the report.

Here’s what the hidden camera found, according to the report:

Our hidden cameras captured meter readers informing Beradinelli that "something may be going on with the meter," "the computer itself is saying there are no leaks" and " I can't see how your bill would jump that high."

A water review board hearing was scheduled on the issue after a city councilman called the water department on Beradinelli’s behalf, but he was still stuck with an $800 bill.

"I don't think they listened. I don't think they were fair," he said.

The response from the utility, per the report:

We asked Cleveland Public Utilities Director Robert L. Davis to explain why so many water customers have had similar complaints.

"That's not exactly true," said Davis. "We've made great strides in this area and we will continue to improve billing. These are exceptions, not the rule."

The news outlet claimed in a previous report that the water division has been aware of serious billing problems for years, yet “when customers complain of exorbitant water bills, the water department plays dumb and consistently tells customers it's their problem.”

The report said these billing errors include the following:

  • Water meters not properly functioning.
  • Outside devices that transmit water usage data not properly functioning.
  • Incorrect meter readings.
  • And errors in preparing water bills.

The news outlet claimed in an additional report that some of the problems are systemic.

“An exclusive News 5 Investigation reveals a critical installation error can lead nearly 400,000 recently installed ‘smart meters’ to provide inaccurate bills affecting Cleveland Division of Water customers in 79 surrounding communities,” the report said.

The news outlet cited the city and Itron, the company that oversaw the smart meter installation, as stating the following:

The water department declined an interview, but in a statement said it has found only nine meters that required re-programming and instead blamed the majority of malfunctions on "extreme cold, disconnected cables and illegal tampering". Itron also insists programming errors are not widespread and in most cases, result in showing less water is being used — not more.

To read more about how utilities interact with consumers visit Water Online’s Consumer Outreach Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Cleveland," Eddie~S © 2008, used under an

Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/