News Feature | August 10, 2018

San Diego Overbilled Ratepayers By $2 Million

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

san diego reg new.jpg

Single-family homes in San Diego were overbilled by the city water department by more than $2 million last year, according to a new analysis.

The analysis from The San Diego Union-Tribune followed overbilling complaints from customers, according to the newspaper.

“Water department officials repeatedly said that leaky toilets, broken sprinklers and the rising cost of water were likely to blame, even as customer complaints flooded into the agency’s public hotline for months,” the report said.

A major audit of the public works department showed that incorrect water bills were a persistent problem. 

The newspaper’s analysis is “based on data obtained from the city, following a recent internal audit of the Public Utilities Department that found customers received at least 2,750 incorrect water bills in 2017,” the report stated.

Meter readers were central to the problems that arose. Meter readers in San Diego may read upwards of 500 to 700 meters per day, the newspaper stated.

“The erroneous bills generated last year were overwhelmingly the result of human actions — inaccurate readings recorded by the city’s team of about three dozen meter readers,” the newspaper reported, citing a report from the City Auditor’s Office.

“Auditors found that there was little to stop meter readers from engaging in so-called curbside reading — a practice where employees rush through their daily workload by entering in false numbers without leaving their vehicles,” the report stated.

After the audit was released, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer spoke out about problems in the department.

“Though only a ‘very small percentage’ of bills had to be adjusted after being received by a customer — one-fifth of a percent — Faulconer called for the immediate implementation of 18 auditor-recommended reforms related to strengthening quality control and human meter reader oversight; proactively analyzing billing, water use and call volume data; and improving public communications and customer service attitudes,” The Times of San Diego reported.

City spokeswoman Katie Keach offered a statement to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

“The mayor is outraged about many things he’s learned from the audit,” she said. “Internal controls and employee oversight have been lacking, and that is changing.”

Faulconer called for “sweeping reforms” of the department, according to CBS 8 News.

Image credit: "downtown @ sunset," mike souza © 2009, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/