The City of Houston could bring relief to residents who have gotten unexpected high water bills. City Council is set to vote on a series of ordinances that could fix the problem on Wednesday.

Reporters have heard from many Houstonians who have said their monthly water bill is several times higher than normal. Officials say it’s due to aged meters that are not accurately reading usage.

City officials said they get 99% of the bills right, but that still leaves 5,000 people a month with problems. They admitted they are guessing on about 40,000 water bills a month.

Officials said current city ordinances do not allow them to offer help with the bills.

On Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston City Council will vote on nine proposed ordinances that include removing limits on water leak adjustments, adjusting unusually large bills that are over your average monthly rate, and offering discounts to those who use electronic billing.

“The combined impact of these ordinance changes is that our customer account services team will be equipped with the tools and the resources necessary to resolve the overwhelming majority of disputes on the first call,” Turner said.

The city is working to replace broken meters, but officials said it will take time. Changing the ordinances could be a faster way to bring relief.

These are the nine proposals being voted on:

  1. Current: A customer can apply for maximum of two leak adjustments per year. New: Remove the two times per year allowance and allows customers additional relief should multiple leaks occur in one year more than twice.
  2. Current: Allows customers adjustment to their water bills at 50% rate once proven leak repair. New: Incentivize Citizens – 100% for customers repairing 30 days after leak began, 75% for repairing within 60 days after leak began and standard 50% after 60 days.
  3. Current: Customers get 50% credit on excess water usage on both water and wastewater charges. New: 100% credit on excess wastewater charges. This is based on the idea that a customer water leak usually doesn’t go back through the sewage system.
  4. Current: Leak Balance Remaining must be greater than $2,000 and $250 for elderly customers who meet eligibility criteria. New: Reduce the leak balance remaining amount from $2,000 to $1,000 and $250 to $100 for eligibility qualifiers.
  5. Current: Qualified account for unusual large bill adjustment can only be adjusted down to 150% of average water use. New: Lower the customer responsibility percentage from 150% to 125% of the monthly average water usage.
  6. Current: Exceptional Circumstances Adjustment (ECA): Any billed amount in excess of five times the average monthly bill; Account may be reduced by up to $4,000 for one occurrence; Does not exceed a two-month timeframe. New: Changes to this section are as follows: Any billed amount in excess of two times the average monthly bill; Account may be reduced by up to $10,000 for one occurrence; Does not exceed two billing cycles.
  7. Current: Customers are charged minimum monthly base fee where a water meter is present because the city must reserve that capacity for the customer. Base charge includes water and wastewater. To avoid charges, a customer is required to pay for a private plumber to remove the meter, cap the line, and then cancel the account (costs approximately $1,500). New: Offer a customer an option to have the meter locked for a one-time fee estimated to be $150, and once customer account is charged for lock, all base charges will be removed from the account. Provides less expensive option for customer to remove monthly base-charges.
  8. New: Benefits to sign-up for e-bill: Provide and promote $0.50 discount for each bill for paperless customers.
  9. Current: Long-term estimations have resulted in high catch-up bills of up to 24-months. New: Codify Public Works current practice by not back billing greater than three months for residential customers.

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