High wa­ter bills prompt call for au­dit of dis­trict

Af­fected homes are in Park­land and Co­ral Springs

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - LOCAL - By Lisa J. Huri­ash Staff writer

A Broward County com­mis­sioner is de­mand­ing an­swers from a wa­ter dis­trict af­ter he says his of­fice has re­ceived hundreds of com­plaints from res­i­dents about sky­rock­et­ing­wa­ter bills.

Com­mis­sioner Michael Udine wants theNorth Springs Im­prove­ment Dis­trict to ex­plain why res­i­dents’ bills have in­creased by as much as hundreds of dol­lars a month com­pared to the same pe­riod last year. “There needs to be transparency,” Udine told the Sun Sen­tinel on Tues­day.

The dis­trict serves about 16,000 homes in Co­ral Springs and Park­land.

Dis­trict of­fi­cials in­sisted Tues­day the prob­lems have been over­stated and that res­i­dents are ex­ag­ger­at­ing rate in­creases. The dis­trict cited var­i­ous rea­sons for why bills might be higher, in­clud­ing wa­ter leaks and res­i­dentswhowa­ter large lots.

The dis­trict said it has of­fered cred­its — an im­me­di­ate re­bate — to cus­tomers that it con­firms to have had wa­ter leaks. “We don’t just give out cred­its,” said Rod Colon, the dis­trict’s deputy di­rec­tor. “There has to be a jus­ti­fied rea­son.”

He said the dis­trict also is switch­ing how me­ters are read, from in­di­vid­ual read­ings by a per­son to a com­put­er­ized sys­tem. In March, the billing cy­cle was 40 days in­stead of 30, which could ac­count for some higher fees, he said.

“We’ve re­solved the ma­jor­ity of the cases,” he said of the peo­ple who have com­plained.

The dis­trict, which con­ducts an in­de­pen­dent au­dit an­nu­ally, ac­cusedU­dine of “pol­i­tics.”

“It’s to make him­self look bet­ter to the pub­lic,” saidMaryamOmidi, the dis­trict’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer. “We have noth­ing to hide.”

But Park­land res­i­dent Michael Schwartz said he’s root­ing for more an­swers. Af­ter he fired off some an­gry emails, he said he ac­com­plished noth­ing un­til his wife called the dis­trict and got a $100 credit for “no rea­son at all.”

That’s only a tem­po­rary fix, he said, since he got sticker shock when his bill went from $64 in March 2015 to $168 last month. He said his home has al­ready been checked for a leak, he doesn’t have a pool, and he hasn’t touched the set­tings on his ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem for a year.

“What alarmed me is when my wa­ter bill was higher than my elec­tric,” Schwartz said. “I want my wa­ter bills to be ac­cu­rate and showwhat the ac­tual us­age is.”

Udine, who lives in Park­land and rep­re­sents the area, said he wants the an­swers to his ques­tions in writ­ing.

“The pub­lic needs to be re­as­sured the bills com­ing out of this gov­ern­ment entity are proper,” he said. “The billing should be cor­rect so res­i­dents pay­ing them [are] con­fi­dent they are be­ing ap­pro­pri­ately charged.”

Udine said it would be a good prac­tice to have an au­dit that fo­cuses on the dis­trict’s billing prac­tices “to bring con­sis­tency and transparency to the dis­trict.”

Udine said one woman’s bill bal­looned by hundreds of dol­lars. “I’ve been liv­ing in the NSID dis­trict for more than 20 years, and I don’t think my bill has ever been over $90 or $100,” he said.

Within the last cou­ple ofweeks, Park­land Mayor Chris­tine Hun­schof­sky said she also asked the dis­trict ques­tions, but got the­same type of ex­pla­na­tion. Now she said she is anx­ious for a res­o­lu­tion.

“There are too many peo­ple [com­plain­ing] to be ex­plained away,” she said. “They need to ex­plain what the cause is and what they are do­ing to re­solve it.

“At this point it’s hardto be­lieve, all of a sud­den, so many peo­ple hav­ing leaks or us­ing more­wa­ter.”

lhuri­ash@sun­sen­tinel.com, 954-572-2008 or Twit­ter @LisaHuri­ash

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