Oahu water official promises changes to billing


HONOLULU (AP) — The chief engineer of the Honolulu Board of Water Supply promised to change how the agency issues estimated bills, in response to City Council members who grilled him about 130,000 ratepayers who were undercharged or overcharged for at least a month.

But when pressed, Chief Engineer Ernest Lau said Tuesday he’d have to get back to the council on how quickly such a change could happen, after a study of the cost and work involved.

The agency issues an estimated bill when officials are unable to read a customer’s meter. The agency attempts to estimate the amount due by looking at the customer’s previous bills and comparable customers in the same area.

Nearly four out of five of the board’s 160,000 customers received at least one bill this year based on estimated usage. Nearly 80 percent of the 130,000 received underestimated bills, while 21 percent were overcharged. The board later sent notices to customers that they were either owed money or would have to make back payments.

The council’s Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee gave preliminary approval for a plan to ask Oahu voters if they want to take away the board’s ability to recover back payments.

“I can say with relative confidence that the public’s perception of the Board of Water Supply, its confidence in the Board of Water Supply, is extremely low,” said Council Chairman Ernie Martin. He questioned why no one knew that 94,000 customers received underestimated bills.

Lau said officials were too busy ensuring staffing was in place to meet the demands caused by the flood of overestimated bills to take the time to examine the root causes.

Virgie Jaralba testified that her retired parents were hit with bills totaling more than $7,500 for the family’s Kalihi home because of estimated bills. She said the family was told they would have two years to pay it off.

BWS spokeswoman Tracy Burgo said the family’s house was found to have a leak of about 8,000 gallons a day. “We are working with them to determine what the adjustment to their bill should be,” she said.

 

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