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Bills, bills, bills

Monday, July 31, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Managing water and air-conditioning use when it’s about a gazillion degrees outside can be tough, and Austin utilities feel your pain, kind of. Last week, utility directors took a minute to explain that complaints about utility bills, like many things, are seasonal. In a July 27 memo to the mayor and City Council, Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent and Austin Water Utility Director Greg Meszaros detailed their public education campaigns designed to educate the public about cutting their bills. However, they explained, “The 2015 water use spike changed customer behavior. Now, some customers go directly to news media to express their concerns and seek relief. KVUE broadcasted a story Thursday, July 20, based on a single water customer who, though receiving (under new rules) a 50 percent reduction in what he considered an excessive water bill, believed he should not have been held responsible for any of the bill.” That 2016 change by the city allows customers to seek adjustment to their bills and they report the system is working as a measure of last resort and “has been utilized by 384 out of 204,500 customers. The 384 customers have received $96,174 out of $166 million billed to all customers since the process went into place.” However, they noted, “A few customers still tell the news media their bills are ‘unexplained.’ That will always be the case. The City of Austin can point out irrigation system settings that are out of sync with conservation regulations, test meters and help detect leaks, but it cannot explain how individual customers use water.”

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