League City residents whose water has been shut off for nonpayment will have to put up a nonrefundable $200 deposit to get it turned back on, if they let the problem linger too long, officials said.
A new utility billing ordinance stipulates that anyone who lost water service because of an outstanding balance that led to collections efforts will have to pay the $200, utility billing manager Nancy Massey said.
“This is if you have left us with an outstanding balance, and we have gone after it diligently in collections,” she said.
But residents who fall behind on their bills but settle up before the city begins collection efforts would have to pay far less, officials said. Those residents can pay a $40 processing fee plus the past due amount to get the water back on.
The updated utility billing ordinance has other changes the city council approved Tuesday after a second reading. The council voted 6-0 with council members Keith Gross and Nick Long absent. The council unanimously approved the changes on the first reading Feb. 13.
The changes include how the city staff refunds customers in case of a leak or some other anomaly.
For Gina Conklin, who lives in the Hidden Lakes neighborhood, the anomaly in 2017 was a malfunctioning city water meter, she said.
“I was getting these crazy high bills,” Conklin said. “They were more than $400 a month.”
City staff initially told her that perhaps she left the sprinkler on all night, and then they suggested that perhaps a leak inside the house was causing the problem, Conklin said.
The city tested the meter, but warned Conklin if it wasn’t the meter causing the high bill, she would owe the city an extra $50, Conklin said. But it turned out that it was the meter causing the problems, and because Conklin paid the high bills each month, she amassed credits to cover water usage.
Conklin’s average water bill now ranges from $60 to $100 a month, she said.
The new ordinance gives staff more power to make decisions.
Massey, in her role as utility billing manager, will have the discretion to reduce water charges inflated by leaks. The reduction can be up to 50 percent of the bill once every 12 months if residents make a written request within six months of a leak and their account has been in good standing for six months, according to the document.
Customers also can appeal the decision to the finance director who has the final say, according to the new ordinance.
Most of the changes to the billing system are to align it with new financial software the city is using.
Other changes are updating the language for 2018, such as getting rid of the word “fax.”
“We don’t have faxes,” Massey said. “We update now with emails.”
The new ordinance also stated that tampering or damaging meters is unlawful. Someone damaging the meters or trying to rig them to get free water is stealing water, Massey said.
Massey, who has 20 years experience with the city, went through the ordinance carefully to make the changes, City Manager John Baumgartner said.
While the billing ordinance is now updated, the billing rates have not changed. The base residential rate for water service remains at a $7.13 a month with other charges depending on how many thousands of gallons of water the resident uses.