PEARLAND – KPRC 2 Investigates has been looking into complaints about excessively high water bills in Pearland.
Dai Nguyen is a single mother who moved to Pearland, from Friendswood three months ago. She said she was really worried about all that cash she’s going to have to shell out to the city for her unusually high water bills.
“It makes absolutely no sense,” Nguyen said.
“My bill is at least double compared to what I was paying prior in Friendswood,” she added.
In Friendswood, Nguyen said, she was paying less than $200 a month for water in a house about the same size as her home in Pearland.
“I got a call from the city (Pearland) saying I need to pay my bill, it’s going to get shut off,” Nguyen said. “When I looked at the bill it was almost $600.”
Across town, Ernest Lewis works with a local charity, Adult Reading Center Inc. Because of the pandemic, the non-profit is already struggling financially and Lewis said it has also been crushed by huge water bills. He said the water bill used to average about $93 a month.
“Over the holidays, we got a very exuberant water bill of about $1,100 and it really cost us,” Lewis said.
Lewis had the water meter itself taken in for examination and hired plumbers to check for leaks but no problems have been found.
So, what’s going on in Pearland?
In 2018, the city changed the billing format, charging water customers for 28 days a month. Most months have 30 or 31 days. This caused the city to underbill customers by roughly $5 million. To get back on track and to make up for some of the uncaptured money, the city launched what it calls the 32/30 plan.
“I think the plan needs to go away,” said Felicia Harris Hoss, former two-term Pearland city councilwoman. “They’re going to make us pay for 32 days of water usage in a 30-day time period.”
“Every month?” asked KPRC 2′s Bill Spencer.
“Every month, until 2023,” said Hoss.
Pearland residents have voiced their anger with more than 500 people joining a Facebook group focused on complaints.
Talking to city officials
KPRC 2 Investigates reached out to Pearland City Manager Clay Pearson to request an interview. The request was declined, because of, “the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid evolution of vaccine deployment.”
Pearland Mayor Kevin Cole agreed to an interview with Spencer. Cole was elected to his position in November. He inherited the water billing problems.
“Everyone agrees that you are now $5 million in the hole on your water billing, so now you’re going to try to make the water customers pay for your mistake,” Spencer said. “How in the heck is that fair?”
“This is something the council is going to have to weigh in on -- what’s the most appropriate way to move it forward,” Cole said. “At the end of the day, yes, there was a mistake made by the city on how they’re billing, but the customers actually used the water.”
In December, the city released an independent report looking into the Water Department’s billing practice.
There are several suggestions, including moving on without collecting that $5 million.
“Should we just walk away and wipe out the $5 million that’s out there?” asked Cole. “It’s a proposal I like, and I think it is something we could absorb financially.”
Ad hoc committee
Several weeks ago, the city formed an advisory committee to address water billing concerns. Public notice about a committee meeting will be given no less 24 hours prior to a meeting. Then, within 72 hours, a recording of the meeting will be posted on the city’s website.
So far, the city has held two committee meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 1 at 4 p.m.
Jimmy Davis, who is an administrator for the Pearland Water Billing Discussion Facebook page, is one of a few citizens on the committee.
What can residents do?
Anyone in Texas who has a problem with their water bill can file a complaint with the They can file a complaint with the Public Utility Commission.
However, the PUC does not oversee billing practices with the Pearland Water Department. The city of Pearland manages the water department.
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