Council Action Needed to Restore Honesty to Water Board’s Billing
Message to Constituents from Councilmember Kymberly Marcos Pine September 17, 2014
Last spring, thousands of Board of Water Supply (BWS) customers who were charged and paid ‘estimated’ water bills for months, got a surprise in the mail: re-calculated bills for months of service that in some cases, were for thousands of dollars more than they expected.
This billing fiasco led the City Council to initiate a performance and management audit of the BWS, the results of which were the topic of yesterday’s special council hearing.
Finding that the BWS endured enormous cost overruns and dismal customer service during its transition to a new customer ID and billing system, the City Auditor recognized that a Charter Amendment to provide more public input and restrict the BWS’ billing powers may be necessary to promote transparency and improve customer service.
According to the report, the BWS grossly underestimated the cost and time needed to implement its new billing system – budgeting 18 months and $5 million in capital improvement funds for an upgrade that took almost 5 years, had over 25 contract modifications, and ultimately cost ratepayers $16 million.
O‘ahu’s water customers who end up paying the price for the BWS’ defective meters and billing errors would likely fare better if the BWS was subject to regulation by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), as many other utility providers are. But because of a loophole that exempts the BWS from state regulation, the PUC cannot by law stop the Board of Water Supply from recalculating customers’ bills to collect money.
This is why I introduced a charter amendment to limit the BWS’ ability to "back bill" its customers. Click here to read more about my proposed charter amendment – Resolution 13-216, which would give our island’s ratepayers the opportunity to decide whether the BWS should have this power to back-bill its customers, especially in cases where billing errors were caused by the Board’s own mismanagement.
The Board of Water Supply’s mismanagement caused undue hardship and suffering for some of our City’s most vulnerable families. It is my hope that the audit’s results will prompt our City to act now and increase oversight of our island’s only municipal water utility.
Background: Auditor: Water Board Cannot Justify Monthly Billing Charge