CALGARIANS GOT SOAKED
The responsibilities of our three branches of government are fairly well understood, especially when it comes to the municipal level — the variety that is often said to be closest to the people.
We associate municipal governments with the provision of the most basic of public services; things like police and fire protection, parks and roads, garbage collection — and water.
Complaints about eye-popping water bills have persisted for several weeks and it’s essential that city council resolve the matter. Calgarians have reported receiving bills for thousands of dollars above their normal amount, even though the apparent increase in water consumption is inexplicable.
One Calgary family received a bill for $4,070.44 — in excess of $3,800 of what the customers believe they should have been charged. It’s estimated the amount of water they were reported to have used was the equivalent of filling an Olympic-sized swimming pool or as much water as a 60-unit apartment building consumes in a month.
The response, to large extent, had been to blame homeowners when they came forward. They must have used more water than they imagined, or have leaky toilets that are at fault, the narrative went. Such explanations may have made sense on rare occasions, but it’s clear the problem of overcharging was so widespread that action had to be taken.
Thursday, it was revealed that water meters have been faulty one per cent of the time. The problem involves the transmission of information to the billing receivers, members of the city’s audit committee were told.
Council has voted to waive the exorbitant bills, but Coun. Evan Woolley, chairman of the audit committee, says the scope of the problem isn’t clear.
“The order of magnitude of these discrepancies, I’m not sure what that physical number is,” said Woolley. “Where the system has failed, there’s a significant amount of work on how mistakes were made and to fix them.”
Let’s remember that water and its treatment after it’s disappeared down the drain is an important public service, one that Calgarians paid $662 million for in 2016. That’s the largest non-tax source of revenue the city relies upon, so if it can’t get this fundamental service right, there’s a serious problem. We’re not talking about whether the grass is a little too long in a community park; we’re looking at the gouging of some Calgarians for a staple of life.
The city has said it will review why the errors occurred to ensure overbilling isn’t repeated. It had better be successful, or it faces a continued flood of complaints.