Yo. Water Dept. Officials: Meter update under consideration

Youngstown water bill controversy

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) — Youngstown City Water Commissioner Harry Johnson told WKBN Thursday that city officials are considering an upgrade to the city’s water meter system.

Johnson said the Youngstown City Council has to vote to approve the update before it can go forward. Money for such projects in the past has come from the Ohio Water Development Authority and the Ohio Public Works Commission, while the city has had to pay for the rest, Johnson said.

Johnson also said that the cost of the upgrade would not affect anyone’s water bill, as the project has not begun.

Austintown resident Bill Johnson received a water bill for $177 Wednesday, far above what he says is an average of $40, touching off questions over the accuracy of the department’s readings.

“About 2, the email came from the Youngstown Water Department,” Bill Johnson said. “I always open the bill and check the account.”

Johnson said a water department worker came to his house Thursday and confirmed the high reading listed on his bill. Johnson said that an inspector is scheduled to come to the house Friday morning to do further checks on the reading, as the water use at the house was measured at about 7 times the normal amount. He is still skeptical of the amount of water use reported by the water meter.

Harry Johnson said spikes in water consumption are usually related to leaking toilets, in his experience.

“I am the landlord there. There is no pools. I make sure there are no leaks,” Bill Johnson said.

Harry Johnson said he did not know why Bill’s water costs were higher for June. Utility Operations Supervisor Ted Scmaj said that in a case like that of Bill Johnson in which a month’s water bill was dramatically higher than previous months, a customer could ask for a water department worker to check the house’s water meter.

The upgrade to the water meters would allow for an accurate reading of around 99 percent of homes served by the Youngstown Water Department, Scmaj said. About 85 percent are accurately read right now, while the water bills for the rest are estimated, Scmaj and Johnson confirmed.

“Sometimes when we get an actual read, sometimes we underestimate, sometimes we overestimate. We of course adjust the customer’s bill accordingly,” Harry Johnson said.

Scmaj said estimated bills are based on 90 percent of an average of a specific home or route’s previous 12 months’ levels of water consumption, meaning customers whose bills are estimated get billed for less than their average amount.

Johnson said the bill for about 15 percent of houses has to be estimated for a variety of reasons. Sometimes staffing shortages prevent the department from reaching all their customers, or the meter technology does not allow for an accurate reading, to name two, Johnson said.

Scmaj said he thought the average number of complaints about water bills has held fairly steady recently.

In Bill Johnson’s case, he did not provide us with his prior bills, so we do not know how many months of estimated bills he had. Scmaj said for April’s bill, all the houses on the route that included Bill Johnson’s house had their bills estimated but he did not know why.

For May’s bill, the meter reader assigned to that route did not finish it, meaning Bill Johnson’s charge was again estimated. Scmaj said Johnson’s actual meter reading was taken for his June bill.

The last time the city’s meters were replaced was in 1988.

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