Houston – Tears, frustration, and disappointment.
That’s what Houston city leaders heard over two hours of public comment about water billing issues.
On Tuesday, 27 people signed up to speak about their water bill problems after KPRC 2 Investigates asked the community to address the council after 18 months of reporting on unexplained water usage, meter readings, and billing problems.
Our ‘DRAINED’ Investigation includes dozens of stories and we have recovered at least $80,000 for customers.
But we haven’t been able to get to everyone’s messages and city leaders have not been clear in explaining what is going on or changes that could be made.
Investigator Amy Davis joined the other customers to speak during Tuesday’s public comment at city hall and get answers or relief for customers.
“We came today because the Water Department is still treating these as isolated anomalies. I’ve received about 500 complaints from different water customers over the last 12 months,” said Davis.
District G Council Member Mary Nan Huffman shared her personal story of a high water bill.
“They did the investigation, there was no leak, and eventually the city just came back and said, ‘Well it’s just an extremely large bill.’ That was the explanation,” said Huffman. “You know, no other business would be allowed to operate like this. If any other business operated like this they would be out of business. The water department is a joke.”
Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin asked council members to refrain from calling the department a joke.
“They have some challenges. We need to get to the bottom of that. That is our [responsibility] as an elected body to make sure that we serve our constituents well,” said Martin.
‘DRAINED’ customers then took over the public comment portion traditionally known as ‘Pop-Off.’
“I don’t understand why the city water department cannot bill me on a 30-day cycle. These bills range from 26-days to 35-days. you can’t budget around that,” said Pamula Parker.
At-Large Council Member David Robinson urged Parker and others to contact their at-large council members if they don’t hear from other city leaders.
“I wish I could be prouder but I’m not today. I’m worried about some of the discussions we’ve had on our forum about water, and it is of great concern to me about the lack of public service and the pileup we’ve had,” said Robinson. “Ms. Davis I have not spoken yet today, to you, but I want to thank you for bringing the attention to council.”
“God bless, Amy,” Houstonian Ann Stone began saying in front of the council while cracking a joke. “I used to be 6′2″ until I got these water bills.”
Investigative Producer Andrea Slaydon says every person who spoke before council members received one-on-one attention with city customer service representatives.
Then Kingwood resident Jan Adelman began sharing an emotional story about a high-priced water bill for 2,900 gallons.
“My wife was in the hospital 19 days during that time, so there is no way we used that water. I wasn’t home,” said Adelman.
Choking back tears, Adelman told the council that his wife passed away less than a month after the bill.
Despite his multiple attempts to speak with city leaders, it wasn’t until he contacted Amy Davis that he got some relief.
“I think my bill was originally $698, I think I got a $528, some odd dollar adjustment,” said Adelman.
Mayor Pro Tem Martin told Adelman that additional corrections were coming. Council members listened to everyone for a little more than three hours during the pop-off session.
What is the KPRC 2 ‘DRAINED’ Investigation?
The ‘DRAINED’ Investigation has always been about transparency. You should be able to understand your water bill and the charges. When you believe there is an error, there should be a clear process on how to resolve it fairly. The city of Houston has made no real changes since our investigation began.
We’ve seen time after time the process can be difficult and confusing for customers.
We’ve seen people who never get answers. Others are told to just get a nonprofit to pay off the bill but are never told the problem that caused the bill to get so high in the first place.
We hope you know by now we don’t give up until we get you answers.