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Whoops! Toronto Water learns it underbilled 50,000 water customers

The Toronto Star 

 

Almost 50,000 Toronto water customers received a break when the 2011 rate increase was not added to their bills.

The undeserved windfall — averaging $30 per customer — went to 40,000 flat-rate users in Toronto and Etobicoke and 9,600 metric meter customers in York.

The city has about 500,000 water customers.

A year after the fact, the city is moving to adjust bills to recover about $1.45 million that was under-billed last year.

The city’s revenue services call centre has extended its hours. It will operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays until July 3 to answer questions. The number is 416-338-4829.

“It’s going to take time and expense to explain what’s happened,” said Councillor Doug Holyday, chair of council’s audit committee. “It’s awkward.”

The under-billing came to light in a report from the city’s outside auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The report was included on the agenda for council’s audit committee meeting to be held July 3.

In responding to the auditor’s report, the city’s senior management said steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence. Among them:

Staff have double-checked rate increases in both 2011 and 2012 to ensure they’re correct.

To maintain accuracy from now on, a total of four utility billing staff will review the rate tables after council approves annual changes.

After the utility billing staff complete their review, revenue staff will perform a final check.

City staff uncovered the problem last November, but Holyday said he hadn’t been given a heads-up.

“If the auditor hadn’t been on the job, this probably would have gone undetected and unknown and never collected,” he said. “It’s almost inexcusable, to tell you the truth.”

Holyday expects councillors on the audit committee to have questions.

“I don’t think the committee is going to be very happy. I don’t see how this could have happened, I just don’t. I think there’s going to be a lot of questions and we’ll expect a lot of answers.”

Utility billing manager Anthony Fabrizi said the problem was detected in November when staff were doing reconciliations after the fact.

“We don’t know what happened behind the scenes,” Fabrizi said. “The system didn’t accept the changes and therefore it defaulted back to the 2010 rate. It didn’t update.”

Adjustments have been made to bills going out now to the affected customers, he said, adding it’s the fair thing to do.

"The city’s view is it would be unfair to allow 460,000 customers to pay full 2011 rates and have 50,000 customers pay a lesser rate. So this is really about leveling the fairness field and ensuring everybody pays the correct water amount.”

The city also notes it has been gradually supplying meters to flat-rate customers — mostly homeowners in the central city.

Once all customers are on meters by 2015, the city expects to save money and be better able to detect leaks. 

 

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Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 12:03 AM by Sutton Realty
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