YES, CITY HALL WILL NOW “LEGALLY” OVERBILL US FOR WATER
Thursday, December 12, 2019 … 6:26 P.M.
Even in Shreveport, where water bills are routinely used to pick our pockets, this latest hammering shocked most of us.
At the day-before-yesterday City Council meeting, members unanimously passed an amendment to Chapter 94 of the Code of Ordinances to “clarify certain provisions related to the calculation of” customers’ water consumption.
At the heart of this changed law is the “rounding of the calculation” of how much water we use in subject months. “Rounding up,” that is … literally resulting in water consumption, and resulting charges for our water, which are higher than the fact of the matter.
Thus, this new law legalizes the practice which Caddo District Judge Michael Pitman recently ruled against … in favor of water users … at the cost of the City of Shreveport.
Estimates of how much the City will owe water customers range much higher than the oft-mentioned $25,000,000 to $35,000,000. Those who are involved have fallen back on saying only “tens-of-millions” dollars.
Right now, the City Department of Water and Sewerage – “Dowas” – is sitting on a $43,000,000 surplus it has raked-in since 2014.
Next week, attorneys for the City and for plaintiffs in the successful overbilling lawsuit against the City will enter into formal mediation to end that litigation.
As if to assert itself as that mediation begins, the City Council has finally gone public with what it has secretly been staging for months.
The heart of the City’s claim is so stunningly ridiculous that it is difficult to explain. In short, the City contends the computer software it uses to measure how much water we use in the subject (winter) months cannot “do” the calculation.
Specifically, the City’s “Fact Sheet” from the water department includes:
“… prior to the implementation of the previous water billing system (enQuesta), the Department billed the Average Winter Consumption (AWC) in either whole thousand gallons or 0.5 thousand gallons depending on the result of the calculation. When enQuesta was implemented, the software was unable to bill in 0.5 thousand gallon increments and as a result of the mathematical conversion, the resulting calculation was rounded up to the nearest thousand gallons.”
The “rounding-up” means one and only one thing: customers are thus billed for water they did not use.
The previous Ordinance did not specifically deal with overbilling. The lawsuit recently decided in favor of water users was the result of the open and uncontested overbilling.
Given the ruling by Judge Pitman, the City – most specifically the City Council and the water department – has now acted to legitimize the overbilling practice / policy.
In fact, attorneys involved in the current litigation say the software WILL do the necessary and correct “rounding.”
The City, we now know, simply stands by its claim that the correct, accurate calculation cannot be done. (No, I did not make that up.)
Put as directly as it can be put, the City was caught illegally taking money from water users. After stalling for years, the subject lawsuit smoked these people out.
They had no plausible defense.
So, the City will now pay some part (at least) of its illegal take in settling the lawsuit. Then, going forward, it will be billing us according to this amended city law which provides cover for the water department to continue overbilling us.
Because this has been a matter of pending litigation for the City Council, its members have used Executive Sessions to exclude we the people from their discussions and decision-making.
All in all, this process and its result is yet another stain on Shreveport and its governance.
© 2019 Elliott Stonecipher … ALL RIGHTS RESERVED