Cover Story: Water audit on the way

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities announces an approximately four-dollar increase in fees and a plan they hope will make you trust them again.

Since last fall, the publicly-owned company has fought accusations of over-billing some of your neighbors.

CMUD looked at the problem and now it's presenting solutions to solve the problem.

This is a 9-step plan but there are a couple of steps people are most likely to notice.  The biggest thing is the department for the first time in its history is going to do an audit of customers' water meters.

To see if the meter and the transmitter that feeds the utility the data are working properly.

This is now an audit of customers bills rather an audit of the equipment that's being used to measure water usage.

Customers in north Mecklenburg who showed up at public meetings earlier this year outraged over high bills blame them on CMUD water meters.  They claim they aren't giving an accurate reading.

Since the meters are mechanical devices, things can go wrong from time to time.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities director Barry Gullet says the audit is to determine whether there is a problem systemwide that they're not aware of.

"Is there anything that's abnormal in the workings of our equipment?"  he asks.  "We don't think there is.. but we want to confirm that."

Monday evening, the city council signed off on the audit which will begin in about two weeks.  Start May 19th and conclude in July.

A private, independent field auditor will visit 9,000 water customers (three percent of CMUD's customer base) choosing a cross-section of all usage levels.

They'll be checking to see if the three pieces of the water meter:  the meter itself, the mechanical register (what looks like a speedometer dial) and the electronic component all are working.

Most importantly checking to see that the mechanical dial and the electronic data transmitter readings match.

"And if we do find something that's out of the ordinary.. then we need to have a plan to fix that," says Gullet.

In response to customers who've complained of spikes in their water bills CMUD has beefed up its staffing to investigate those claims.

When they've found is that in some cases there was a problem in the equipment which resulted in a spike to catch up.

Other times it was discovered that customers had a leak or were watering their lawns and were using more water than they realized.  Because the utility charges a higher rate to high water customers.. they got shell shock.

The audit is to build trust in the system.

Charlotte City Councilman Warren Cooksey says, "If there is something that's necessary to help regain confidence in the public then let's certainly take a look at it."

"The audit will help restore confidence in the community," says director Barry Gullet.

If an inspector comes to your home there's nothing you have to do.  He'll leave a notice that an inspector has visited.

If you have a problem, a crew will be dispatched later to fix it.

How much is this going to cost the department?  It's not clear yet, bids are still out

CMUD is getting to work on improving its customer service.  It's why it's asking for a fee increase of about four-dollars a month to cover costs associated with billing and customer service.

The rate hike is not official until city council signs off on it.  And that will come in about a month.

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