EDMONTON – The City of Fort Saskatchewan is responding to residents’ frustrations over skyrocketing water bills by approving an external assessment of the water billing process.
Trina Scott is the founder of a Facebook group for concerned residents called Fort Sask Water Watch.
For months, she has lobbied council to do an audit and is now happy it is finally taking place.
“I just hope they’re going to do it fairly and justly and if they do find something…that they’ll be upfront and honest about it,” said Scott. “That’s all we hope for. We just want answers.”
“They’re conceding something may be wrong,” she said.
Scott said her bills were, on average, $180 every two months for a household of four. But she once received a bill for $470, at a time when she and her family were on vacation and only one person was home.
Martina Kelly’s bills have ballooned as well. Typically $120 every two months, they went up to $300 in February 2015. The bills have since dropped to between $150 and $200.
Kelly said the city told her to check her toilets, and questioned whether she had laid down sod.
“I haven’t done anything in the last year that would make it worse or better,” she said.
While Kelly is happy an audit is happening, she said it is too little, too late.
“They should have been investigating, not waiting until it got to the point where people were mad, people were angry,” she said.
Scott hopes if problems are found with the meter reading or the utility billing system, residents will be compensated, either through a refund or a rebate.
Jeremy Emann, the chief financial officer for the City of Fort Saskatchewan, declined to comment when asked if the city should have acted sooner.
“I think the city, as residents called in with complaints, we addressed them. But again, the city, we feel we responded accordingly,” he said.
Emann said the assessment, which will be done by KPMG LLP, will involve examining the utility billing system, from the process for meter reading to preparing the utility bill.
He said the city believes its systems are correct and accurate but that it’s important for citizens to be assured of that.
“Council felt that having a third-party lends some credibility to those systems and processes (that) would be at the best interest of residents,” Emann said.
However, one councillor said he believes the city dropped the ball on the issue.
“I do feel that this issue wasn’t taken seriously initially and the city should have gotten ahead of the curve, ahead of the ball and we did not do that,” said Arjun Randhawa.
Randhawa is hopeful the audit will help the city restore and repair trust that was broken with residents.
“You can only tell residents they have leaky toilets and leaky taps for so long before there’s an issue there. There’s a lot of frustration there and those frustrations I share,” he said.
If the report comes back showing there are problems with the system, the councillor said all options are on the table about whether residents can expect compensation.
“This has simply been unacceptable to this point. I just want to see us get to the bottom of this. I want to move on,” he said.
The report, which has a budget of between $80,000 and $100,000, will be presented to council in March.
The assessment will focus on statistical analysis of billing trends, reviewing software performance, and reviewing records related to data collection, meters, and meter readers.
“We try to rule out common explanations, but when a customer has done some basic checks and they believe there are causes beyond their control, we need to look deeper.
If we can further help people detect a problem, then it can be rectified,” said Emann.
The city is encouraging residents to call 780-992-6200 for more details about the assessment.