An article from the Metro section of today’s Plain Dealer:
Customers of the Cleveland Division of Water may see another rate increase next year. How much is yet to be determined.
A rate study is in progress, and the division could approach council with a request for a hike around the end of the year, officials said at a council committee meeting this week.
Customers are in the last year of an increase instituted in 2007 that pushed rates up almost 80 percent for city residents and 45 percent for suburban customers over four years. Council sets the rates for the city-run water division that serves 1.4 million people.
Water Commissioner Chris Nielson said revenues were $25 million below projections last year due to a decrease in consumption and a drop in interest earnings and fees. The cool, wet summer contributed to the drop in water use, he added.
The revenue decrease, overall maintenance and a proposed $86 million automatic meter reading system the division wants to buy will be factored into the cost analysis, division spokesman John Goersmeyer said.
The search for additional revenue comes not long after the division was barraged by customer complaints due to estimated bills, bad meters, long waits on the phone and rude customer service. The Plain Dealer chronicled the division’s troubles throughout much of last year.
Residents continue to be critical of the department. Director of Utilities Barry Withers said steps are being taken to improve customer service, including extended calling hours and putting a new computer billing system online.
Nielson said the proposed automatic meter reading system is key to solving most of the remaining problems. “All of our customer service revolves around a good meter reading,” he said.
Council, which put the brakes on the purchase last month, is now ready to move forward. Members wanted to investigate whether the radio-driven remote reading system could be used for other city needs such as safety-force communications and traffic cameras.
Councilman Kevin Kelley, chairman of council’s Public Utilities Committee, said at the meeting this week that he concluded “meshing systems would be cost prohibitive” since the division’s system extends into five counties, including all of Cuyahoga.
In the next several weeks, council is expected to approve legislation to allow the purchase. Nielson said the costs include $3.2 million for design and management; $17.8 million for meters; $42 million for technology; $23 million for installation.
The water division will pay for the network with $8.5 million of previously encumbered money; $12 million from 2009 operating capital; $15.5 million from future operating capital; and $50 million from bonds.
Nielson said the system will eliminate estimated bills. Radio devices strategically installed on places like buildings and utility poles will allow employees downtown to read meters remotely at any time. This could clear the way for monthly billing, he said. The division now bills quarterly. Consumption eventually could be broken down to daily and even hourly use, allowing for detection of leaks or water theft, Nielson said.
The division would save on the cost of vehicles and fuel when the system is fully functional in three years, he said. Installation would begin this fall. The first year, 10 percent of residential meters will be replaced along with 40 percent of the commercial meters.
Nielson said meter readers would reassigned to inspection, maintenance, leak detection and customer service crews as the system is phased in.
See the full article: http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2010/04/water_customers_could_see_anot.html
As a customer of the Cleveland Division of Water, there are a few actions that can be taken to help combat the increase in the rates:
- Check for water leaks or running toilets. Water leaks can add up on your monthly bills, so make sure to periodically check your home or office for leaks.
- Invest in low-flow plumbing fixtures. Items such as low-flow toilets, shower heads and faucet aerators can help reduce your water consumption and your water bill. Contact Neptune Plumbing to learn more about having these items installed.
How do you feel about these rate increases? Do you have any tips to help lower your water consumption? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.