Thursday, February 15, 2018 - NEWS RELEASE
San Diego – At Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer’s request, independent City Auditor Eduardo Luna has agreed to expedite and expand the scope of a planned audit of the City’s Public Utilities Department (PUD) to review water billing practices and now also examine the use of new smart meter technology.
Mayor Faulconer’s request follows an internal department review that found more than 300 customers were overcharged on their water bills as a result of human error in misreading meters. Luna said he will apply more of his office’s resources to complete the audit ahead of schedule this spring.
Joined by City Councilmembers Chris Cate and Lorie Zapf, Chair of the Council’s Audit Committee, as well as Luna and Vic Bianes, the PUD Director, Mayor Faulconer today said a thorough and comprehensive audit will help confirm whether the billing inaccuracies were an isolated incident and recommend changes to ensure confidence in the billing system.
“San Diegans need to be able to trust that their bills are correct, that the new technology we are implementing is working properly, and that every cent they pay goes to making sure we have safe, reliable water,” Mayor Faulconer said. “I welcome this independent review of operations to determine how we can better serve our customers and reassure them that we are doing everything we can to ensure the accuracy of their bills. I want to thank City Auditor Eduardo Luna for his willingness to apply more resources to this important task.”
In January, the City Auditor began a planned audit of the PUD’s Customer Service Division. Following the recent overcharges, it will be widened to review billing procedures to determine if any changes need to be made to ensure the accuracy of customers’ bills. The audit will also determine what, if any, role the City’s implementation and use of new smart meter technology played in billing inaccuracies.
“Residents should be assured that the independent audit will determine if the Public Utilities Department is accurately billing customers for water usage, and we will make recommendations for improvement in the billing process as needed,” Luna said.
The City Auditor has made completing this audit a top priority for his office and has assigned a team of six auditors to expedite it.
“I appreciate the Mayor expediting this audit to confirm if this matter was an isolated incident,” said Councilmember Cate. “With this audit, I hope the department will start to regain the trust of District 6 residents.”
While the audit is underway, the PUD has implemented several new accountability measures to provide better oversight and ensure the accuracy of water bills, including:
- Requiring PUD supervisors to personally sign off on daily reports from meter readers
- Adding security protocols to ensure that only designated staff have ability to input data
- Improving automated alerts that flag unusual spikes in water usage
- Adding a second spot check review of meter reads to ensure accuracy
- Including an informational insert in water bills on how customers can read their own meters and track their water use
“As the chair of the Audit Committee, I would like to ensure residents and businesses that a careful and comprehensive audit of the Public Utilities Department will be our highest priority,” said Councilmember Zapf.
During its internal review, the City found 343 meters had been misread due to human error. Other causes of higher water bills have been attributed to a citywide rate increase of 6.9 percent that the City Council approved in 2015 and took effect August 2017, leaks in homes and irrigation systems, warmer temperatures and dry conditions leading to increased water use, and new landscaping or pool installations.
So far, none of the higher bills have been attributed to the new Advanced Metering Infrastructure, known as smart meters. There are currently 15,000 smart meters in use citywide – a small fraction of the total customer base – with the goal of installing smart meters for all customers by 2020.
The smart meters benefit customers by providing online daily detailed water usage information and better tools to conserve water. They also improve the efficiency of operations, reduce costs and eliminate human error.
Additionally, the City wants to remind customers there are programs already in place to assist them if they believe their bill is too high. There is a free residential survey program that allows Public Utilities staff to help customers monitor their water consumption and check their property for leaks. The City also has a number of water conservation rebates, including water pressure reduction valves and rain barrels. For low-income customers who qualify for a $100 credit on their bills, the City offers the H2O SD program.
Customers are encouraged to contact the City with questions or concerns at 619-515-3500 or [email protected].
CONTACT: Greg Block at 619-227-3752 or [email protected]