News Feature | January 26, 2016

Consumer Complaints Soar As Santa Fe Installs Smart Meters

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Santa Fe is hitting speed bumps as it begins to rely on new smart meters.

The city has logged more than two dozen written complaints at its Utility Billing Division over the last six months, beginning “about the same time the city started to replace defective meters with a new ‘smart’ meter-reading system,” the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

The New Mexican first reported a rise in complaints over water bills in November.

“Nick Schiavo, the city’s public utilities director, said the Water Division was dealing with a spike in complaints, many of which were tied to the installation of the new water meters. The influx of complaints, plus a staffing shortage, created longer wait times on the phone, a problem that persists,” the report said.

Stanley Gairey is among the residents who filed a complaint. He received a $400 water bill, suggesting he used 2,700 gallons of water in a single day.

“Gairey, a 67-year-old Santa Fe native, called the city’s Water Division to get an explanation. Instead of getting an answer, however, all he got was an answering machine that repeated the same message, adding to his frustration,” the report said.

What does the city say?

Diana Catanach, the utility billing director, “said about half the complaints logged against the Water Division were valid. But many of the customers who complained that their bills were too high were responsible,” the report said. “Catanach said the Water Division saw a bump in complaints following newspaper reports about billing and other issues.”

She urged customers to be patient.

“I hate to put it this way, but a lot of times people will come in yelling and screaming at staff who are really trying to help them,” she said. “If they could just be patient with us, we certainly are willing to help reach resolution. I’d say 90 percent of our customers, if not more, leave happy.”

Santa Fe launched a smart meter overhaul last year, according to the Santa Fe Reporter:

The City of Santa Fe’s decision to replace its Firefly water-meter readers, installed just under 10 years ago and now largely known for their failings, aims to do more than provide the billing basics for how much water was used in a month. The [upgrade] is expected to cost $6 million for the equipment and installation of 36,000 meters, and an additional $2 million for service, software maintenance and cell tower space for signal transmission over the 10-year contract.

To read more about smart meters, visit Water Online’s AMR, AMI And Metering Solutions Center.