Calgary Herald - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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