‘Hot water’ night for city council on Monday

Customers irate about meters, bills
Reporter Editor

The “social media” unrest percolating about water rates boiled over into Rockdale’s city council meeting Monday evening.

More than two dozen Rockdale water customers packed council chambers to complain their bills have periodically “spiked” and cite what they believe are inaccurate meters or a perceived city policy of not reading meters in some instances.

City officials just as adamantly maintain there are other reasons for varying water bills and that new “e-meters” to be installed by next spring will render accurate, defensible readings of all customer usage.

The two sides talked, sometimes in shrill voices by the visitors, but in the end it was obvious few minds were changed. The crowd simply didn’t believe the city representatives.

“This is about accountability and public trust,” council visitor B. J. Morales said.

GAVEL—Mayor John King a llowed t he v isitors a great amount of latitude, letting those in the crowd dialogue back-andforth with council members and city officials without their signing up to talk or identifying themselves, as is policy.

At one point King involved his gavel—rarely used by Rockdale mayors—to restore order when voices became many and loud.

Joseph Montelongo, water department utility superintendent, attempted to express his opinion on how meters could have become covered in water and dirt after being read by water department employees.

That provoked such an outcry from some in the standing room-only crowd that King stopped Montelongo.

Danielle Donnelly, who had requested to be on the agenda, told the council her household— two adults and a 4-monthold infant in a 900-square-foot home— were billed for using 6,000 gallons of water in their recent monthly bill.

Donnelly maintained she was treated rudely by some city officials when inquiring about her bill, said the home does not have evidence of leaks and brought up Rockdale’s 60-year-old “red water” woes asking “why do we pay for water we can’t drink?”

“There’s no way you’re checking meters every month,” she said, and distributed photos of some meters to the council.

That was a familiar theme from the crowd, members of whom maintained:

• Meters have been found covered in “up to 4 inches of solid dirt” and it’s assumed they weren’t read.

• One meter was broken for six years, and residents received an extremely low water bill, before the situation was discovered.

• Usage “spikes” are common.

• New, higher, water rates were not being challenged, the contention is over amount of water customers are being billed.

METER BOX—Montelongo attempted to explain how city reading crews deal with meters that are covered by dirt or water.

“It only takes a couple of seconds to dip the water out,” he said

When he attempted to discuss the difference between meters and meter boxes, which he said can have grass and dirt problems, the crowd would have none of it and interrupted.

Mayor King called the crowd to order and it complied.

City Manager Kelvin Knauf said the city does read meters every month. “We have a program that flags bills that are unusually high and those are checked to see if they’ve been read properly.”

He said customers may challenge accuracy of meters which will be sent off to be checked. “If they’re found to be accurate the customer pays for the check, if inaccurate the city pays and the meter is replaced,” he said.

Knauf noted, and Donnelly mentioned, a 10-year plan to upgrade the system and tackle the red water problem. New water rates are an initial attempt to raise revenue for a serious attempt to address the problem.

WILD CARD—The wild card in the water situation will be the new electronic meters, to be installed by spring.

Knauf said they will provide much more accurate readings than the current meters, can be read by laptop computer and will provide data to show customers their exact usage at virtually any time.

The new meters could reflect increases in water bills, city officials have noted.

Council member Joyce Dalley noted that many of Rockdale customers’ current meters are many years old. “ That’s why they’re being replaced,” she said.

Dalley asked for those in the crowd to leave their names and addresses with the city so their complaints over individual accounts could be checked out.

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