PEARLAND, Texas – Our Spencer Solves It team has helped individuals, couples, and families with their most pressing problems. For the first time, KPRC 2′s Bill Spencer is getting answers for hundreds of people -- all at once.
This plea came from KPRC 2 viewers in Pearland. They said they have been getting high water bills for months and they are confused as to why. As Spencer learned, things are so out of sorts and an independent investigation is underway.
Jocelyn Perez has lived and worked in Pearland for years. She is a proud mom to four children and has owned the Head Waves salon for 11 years.
She said she stayed afloat during the coronavirus pandemic closures, but a double punch of inexplicably high water bills at her salon and her house may have finally put her under.
“The pink slip is for a bill that hasn’t been paid yet,” said Perez, nearly in tears as she held up her latest water bills from the city. “These two combined is over $1,100 dollars.”
She’s not alone
The Spencer Solves It team heard about this same problem from many people.
“Please check into the City of Pearland’s water department billing. The water bills in Pearland have gone up to unbelievable amounts. The city claims that they’re behind in their billing, so they’re adding an extra day or two to each billing cycle, but no one at the water department can tell me how far behind they are in their billing... $220 for a single family home in November is not acceptable!” said viewer Cynthia Ely.
“Problems with Pearland Water Billing Systems. For several years now the city of Pearland has been incorrectly billing thousands of residents and are still not inclined to do anything about it and many are being overcharged and expected to pay for the city’s mistakes...And no resolution,” said viewer Robert Allen.
“Pearland water residents - fraud and need help. Many of us City of Pearland residents have multiple reports and accounts, of our water bill usage being through the roof, without account from the City of Pearland water department. We are basically told that “you must have a leak”, and pay what they say, or have your water cut off. There is a FB page about it, and people whose house is vacant, have $300 month water bills. We need help against the City department,” wrote Terri Garcia.
Social media requests
“I have lived in my home for 15 years and never have I received bills like this. I have received 2 outrageous invoices for usage 41,400 and 38,900. This is excessive usage for my house. I do not own a pool and have not run any sprinklers since the first bill to give a benefit of the doubt. I called to the City to question and they said I would have to check and see if what a leak at my own expense. You’ll see if I had a leak it miraculously stopped in the 7/3-8/4 bill date. Only to get another high bill the next bill cycle. The city has stated that I will receive a 40 day usage report and times and a monthly meter readings report . I am currently awaiting these... all this after we paid a double bill back in February because the City stated they did not bill residents,” wrote Yvette Goodwin.
Over 500 people have united through a Pearland water billing Facebook group.
The administrator for the Facebook page, Jimmy Davis, sent KPRC 2 a video asking for help:
“Hi, my name is Jimmy Davis and I’m a resident of Pearland. Pearland needs to start operating their water department within industry standards. The current plan will have them operating outside of industry standards for almost five years.”
The big problem, since the springtime is the unmanageably high water bills.
City Council meeting
Last week, the city council held a marathon session about it.
“Stop picking our pockets, the citizens of Pearland deserve honesty, integrity,” said one resident.
“How many people have to suffer financial harm?” said another resident during the virtual meeting.
We reached out to the head of the Pearland billing department about these complaints.
“We see this as a natural part of a large complex of a system that we have,” said Nancy Massey, the water billing and collections manager for Pearland. “We serve over 36,000 customers, and those customers can go all over the place on different concerns that they have. So we look at each one of those concerns individually. And we encourage customers to contact us.”
So what happened? Where is the customer confusion? To put it simply, the city changed the billing format last year. It billed customers for 28 days, but some months have 30 and 31 days.
City Council’s response
“We, unfortunately, allowed an error to trickle through and when we caught it, it had gotten pretty severe,” said City Councilman Trent Perez.
The city underbilled customers by $6 million to $12 million and also got behind by two months. This year the city has been trying to figure out how to get that money, and catch up to the calendar.
“So we have the read, we’ve gone out and done the reads for the meter. So we know what you’ve used. We’re just adding two days of that use,” said Trent Perez.
WATCH: The 32-30 Plan
The city agreed to now bill customers for 32 days a month, but for residents, they say this is leaving them with higher, more-unpredictable bills.
“At my residence, they say I’ve consumed 100,000 gallons of water,” Perez said. “I still haven’t received my bill yet. So we’ll see what we have in store for us.”
New water meters
In the midst of these billing changes, the city swapped out old water meters for new, high-tech ones.
KPRC 2 investigates has learned there has been a problem with some installation and the software. Some folks were getting charged for water usage in the middle of the night. The software was set up under a completely different time zone -- UTC.
“That was information that was provided to us by the manufacturer at a later time,” said Massey.
This software issue was discovered last month.
Residents said that when they questioned it, they were initially told by the billing department that they must have a leak and should hire a plumber to look into it. They paid for the plumber out of their own pockets. Residents are now asking for reimbursements for the expense of unnecessarily hiring a plumber.
Perez told KPRC 2 that he will look into it. He will discuss this concern with other council members. He issued this statement:
“The efforts to address utility billing concerns with individual residents are always ongoing and each situation presents a unique set of circumstances. I am confident that our city staff members are dedicated public servants whose primary concern is to serve our customers with professionalism while delivering a safe and quality product to their taps.
“I recently went through my emails and tracked each customer who sent an email to council with questions or comments regarding utility billing to create a spreadsheet of individuals who have an interest in this topic. As updates become available, I now send an email to this group with information and encourage them to stay in touch.”
Since all these water billing issues have come to light, an independent audit is now underway. The results are expected to be announced in January.
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