Sunday, April 03, 2011

What's A Little Water Overbilling Between Friends?

You're paying them $29 million just to pack their bags and go away forever after raping and pillaging Indianapolis water users for the past decade. And it now looks like the bandits are ratcheting up their cheating game another notch to give the IURC an extra incentive to sign off on the Ballard administration's plan to further rape Indianapolis ratepayers with its plan to transfer the debt-ridden utility with a big pay off borne naturally by ratepayers.

Although the Ballard administration has pretended it never happened, Veolia may have engaged in a scheme to over bill water users as evidenced by the class action lawsuit, which charges the water company with violating Indiana's deceptive consumer practices law, that has been slowly progressing through the courts as city lawyers do everything possible to fight it from moving forward. The original overbilling seemed to coincide when the water company started accumulating tens of millions of dollars in losses after it foolishly traded in the fixed rate bonds it had previously issued when it purchased the utility from NiSource back in 2002 for about double what it was actually worth for something called variable rate interest bonds. The crap shoot failed miserably when that market melted down and the utility had to pay more than $60 million in swap penalties. According to Jon Murray's story in the Star today, the utility's partner in crime,Veolia, is up to its old games.

The manager, Veolia Water Indianapolis, confirmed Friday that its workers missed bimonthly readings for tens of thousands of customers each month from December to February.

About 7,000 of them have gone as long as Kemp without an accurate bill, Veolia says.

They won't be credited for overcharges until the next reading -- a lag that has Kemp, 68, and others fed up. The utility relies on repeated estimated bills each winter, using a formula many consider unfair.
The water utility's disingenuous executive director, who only got the job because he is in bed with the corrupt forces that have permitted Veolia to get paid tens of millions in extra fees and hose ratepayers at every turn, is shedding crocodile tears. "It's concerning to me that we don't provide monthly meter readings," said Matthew Klein, executive director of the Indianapolis Department of Waterworks. "We're the largest drinking water utility in Indiana. It's time to move into the 21st century." So if you really felt that way, Matt, why did you and your boss sign off on a deal to pay even larger fees to Veolia and then pay them a $29 million going-away gift? The IURC, which recent news events have confirmed is essentially a tool of the utilities, has done very little than offer a lot of bluster to remedy the situation.

When the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approved a 26 percent water rate increase in February, it expressed concern about the formula for estimating water use.

Before the utility asks for another rate hike, the IURC's order says, it must study alternative estimating methods that might be more accurate.

Better yet, the IURC says: Find a way to take monthly meter readings, as some other water utilities have long managed to do.

The utility's rules allow estimated bills in alternating months, or more often when weather interferes with readings. An estimated bill is based on a customer's average usage over the most recent two months or over the past 12 months, whichever is higher.
Thanks for nothing. What's going on is nothing new. As one commenter on the Star's website explains the scam:

The Water company billing method in the winter is a scam. I have called each month with an accurate reading of my bill to no avail. Since it was a dry October, that bill was high, and it has been used to "estimate" November thru March's bills. I am now overpaid to the tune of $400 to $500. When they actually get out here to read the meter I guarantee you they will not write me a check for my overpayment. They will sit on this cash reserve until the bill evens out sometime in June or July. The regulatory agency that oversees this rip off should be reorganized and everyone on it should be replaced.
This water user has more on the scam:

DON'T BELIEVE A WORD THEY TELL YOU, AND ABSOLUTELY DO NOT PAY YOUR INFLATED BILL, until you have forced them to take another meter reading! They had me caught-up in a HORRIBLE billing mess a couple of years ago, when a spring meter reading was logged incorrectly. Somewhere along the road, a couple of my numbers were juxtaposed, and my water bill was ENORMOUS: Knowing that I had not consumed the equivalent of 10 months of typical water usage in the previous month alone, I called them immediately. Their first advise was that I JUST GO AHEAD AND PAY THE BILL and then search for a leak somewhere between the meter and the house... so I began to investigate. Luckily I began at the meter pit, and upon lifting the lid, I knew they were wrong... because my pit was dry: (my basement, and every other basement on the block should have been flooded, if I had actually spilled that much water into my front yard). Next, I compared the numbers from my bill to that shown on the meter, and I the mistake was instantly I called again. This time I was advised to PAY THE BILL, and then the balance would self-correct the following month. HOWEVER, when the next bill arrived, I saw that my average monthly usage was then being calculated, by including the HUGE false reading. I called, was told to go ahead and PAY THE BILL, and that it would self-correct the next time the meter was read, because they were only read every two months. By this time I was skeptical, so I skipped my payment, and sure enough, when the next bill arrived, it was the same thing all over again... except that by this time I was looking at water bills for a three month period, that should have supplied me for over two years!!! I called again... was told to PAY THE BILL!!! After a long and loud discussion with some water-logged mucky-muck at Veolia, they sent out a meter reader: My water & sewer bill has DOUBLED in eleven years, with no increase in usage, and they're about to raise the rate AGAIN.

My homeowners association experienced the same thing a few years ago got when we got a water bill one month that was enough to cover a full year's worth of water use. The property manager paid it in full without noticing the huge spike in the bill. The utility claimed one of our two meters was bad when we complained. After replacing it, the utility would only credit water use recorded by the meter it replaced and made us pay the full usage indicated by the other meter. It took us nearly two years to recover the credit for the overbilling--without interest. Indianapolis ratepayers can complain all they want but it won't make a difference. The Ballard administration doesn't care. The IURC doesn't care. And the news media only occasionally does pussy-footed stories like today's that only scratch the surface and doesn't come close to exposing the wholesale fraud that has been perpetrated on the ratepayers on so many fronts over the past decade that have made millions for the pay to play insiders. It's the Indianapolis Way.


Pete Boggs said...

Meters are fairly simple devices that can be made to report remotely, without the routine expense of a walking, reader person.

rohshack147 said...


I think your story is pure prose! What you, Paul Ogden, and others across Indy must do is keep up the pressure on the Internet.

Gary Welsh for Governor in 2012!

Citizen Kane said...

Thanks for reminding me how much I hate the water company. Fortunately, I have never had the massive bills described in your post. I am surprised that there has not been a much larger uprising. Boy, wait until they see what the bills are like in a few years. Of course, they will blame whomever is in power at the time instead of the people Peterson, Servass and Ballard, etc., who actually caused it.

The lack of real transparency in our local water bills, with respect to billing rates and volume charges is another piece of the puzzle that needs to be exposed. That information should be clearly provided on the bill somewhere like it is in most other places. Of course, I would prefer as I indicated in letter to all of the councilors and the IURC that all of the fraud and theft that we are or will be paying for be itemized on our bills (variable rate bonds fiasco, PILOT police, PILOT street bond etc.

Matt Dial said...

Gary -- I had to laugh when I read the story this morning and someone complaining about an $80 water bill.. My water bill is now $170+ a month for 8000/gal usage in my residence in Boone Co. Whitestown Utilities has had us over the barrel for years.

That is a story that the Star or anyone else hasn't or won't touch -- not for me trying.

Wilson46201 said...

Perennial candidate Marvin Scott is chair of the city board that's supposed to oversee the water company

Southsider said...

"An estimated bill is based on a customer's average usage over the most recent two months or over the past 12 months, whichever is higher".
How can that even be close to being 'average' when the estimate bills are inflated. Last month they actually read my meter. The water/sewer bill was 59.15, this month's ESTIMATED bill is 87.20. And another point... if I pay online they charge a I write a check (free checks with my bank) and use a stamp and their envelope. The Gas and IPL provide a budget plan IWC/Veolia won't, I've asked.

Downtown Indy said...

I guess sending in a check for $0.00 should satisfy the possibility of not making a payment and incurring a penalty, so long as one has a credit.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I am so happy I'm on a well.

I used to think that my house would be worth more if I was on city water. I'm beginning to think not being on city water would be just fine. The well works perfectly fine.