Water-meter billing questioned in Abbotsford

Some homeowners say they are concerned about high fluctuations between billing periods, but the city says the meters are reliable.

Gary Lein is skeptical of his new water meter after his bill suddenly doubled.

Gary Lein is skeptical of his new water meter after his bill suddenly doubled.

Are Abbotsford’s radio-read water meters reliable?

The city believes so, but some homeowners have been studying their water bills and questioning whether they’re accurate. High fluctuations between billing periods have raised doubts.

Gary Lein, a local resident for more than two decades, said his recent water bills have been puzzling.

In July-August, he was charged $55.40. That shot up to $112.80 for September-October, then back down to $54.24 for November-December. He wonders how his water bill doubled.

“I wasn’t even home for the first 17 days of that month,” said Lein.

He and his wife were visiting the Interior and no one else lives in the home. Lein said he doesn’t water his lawn, he washes the car at a car wash and they don’t have any leaks.

When he told the city about his dilemma, Lein said they asked him if his grandchildren might have been playing with the water.

“I don’t have any,” he told them.

He has had no resolution, or explanation to why his bill jumped so high. He said it’s strange, because after he complained, his next water bill was only $34.

“I don’t know what to expect.”

Others tell a similar story.

“It’s never worked, right from the very beginning,” said Abbotsford homeowner David Janzen.

He has been arguing with the city for months about their bills, but Janzen said little has been accomplished. Once the old meter was replaced, he said the water bill doubled. After complaining to the city about the problem, a technician was sent out to examine the meter.

“Everything was perfect, no leaks or anything anywhere,” David said.

However, his water bills still fluctuated – sometimes double the amount from a previous bill.

The couple live alone, don’t water their lawn and say they are careful to conserve water. But their bills for close to $100 every two months are equal to what a family of four would pay.

Janzen said he has given up trying to get a satisfactory resolution.

“It gets to be where your own time is more valuable than the time you are putting into it. I’ve decided just to live with it. It is what it is.”

The city won’t comment on specific cases, but did confirm there are more than 25,000 water customers in Abbotsford. In the past year, staff have received approximately 2,500 inquiries about the water billing system. However, inquiries are calculated by volume, not by individual caller, meaning one complaint could comprise six or seven calls in order to resolve an issue.

Many inquiries were in response to the more than 1,500 leak notification letters sent out by staff.

The meters, installed last year, monitor water use and send the information to a main data base. Because readings are sent automatically, rather than manually, the city can identify irregularities or leaks quicker, conserving water and saving households from huge bills.

The city also changed its billing cycle from once a year to every two months so homeowners could see more frequently how much water is being used.

The introduction of seasonal tiered water rates – which charged more money per 1,000 litres once a consumer passed certain quantities of water used – contributed to more billing fluctuations and customer confusion.

The tiered rate has now been eliminated.

City staff indicated that a majority of complaints have been explained by seasonal water use, leaks and fixtures left on.

There have been no cases of faulty readings, according to staff. However, there were four leaks caused by “installation deficiency” and about a dozen cases where the meters were incorrectly programmed, but those issues were addressed and customer bills were adjusted.

“Where there has been an issue with a meter, there’s been a reason for it. It’s either been a leak or it’s been somebody overusing water, so there really is nothing out of step with the radio-read meters,” said city manager Frank Pizzuto.

“We have confidence in those radio-read meters.”

He said now that people are used to the new billing system, and comparing them to their tax notices (the public used to be charged for water and sewer once a year), the number of complaints is going down.

He said the fluctuations should begin to slow down as well, now that tiered water rates have been cancelled.