Water Billing has been plagued by controversy from the time that the City of Cambridge assumed the billing and collection of water and wastewater services from Cambridge and North Dumfries Hydro Inc. in October 2010. The city is currently in the process of replacing older meters with Neptune Meters.
The department has experienced various administrative problems since that time. Residents have claimed to be overbilled thousand of dollars, with no appeal process in place. Residents have no choice but to pay the bill or have their water shut off. A facebook group titled Cambridge Water Billing Issues has grown to over 600 members.
The city is currently waiting for a consultant’s report on the billing process, but the city is continuing to replace the meters.
Former mayoral candidate Sandra Hill says the city shouldn’t be replacing water meters while a review of its billing processes is underway, and has her water shut off twice for refusing to allow her meter to be replaced.
“They are going around trying to change water meters when they’re having issues,” said Hill is quoted in the Cambridge Times as saying.
Hill has several points of contention with the new meters. A notice in the Cambridge Times in November of 2014 states that the city will be replacing meters that are “ 20 years old or older.” Hill’s meter is only 15 years old, and according to Hill, still works perfect.
She also complains that the new external meters can’t be read by the homeowner without a meter reader. When she asked about purchasing one she was told that they were expensive and the city would let her know.
Hill also has a problem with potential health risks of the new meters. There are numerous studies currently underway regarding potential risks from radiation emitted by the meters.
George Elliott, commissioner of public works, is quoted in The Times as saying “Occasionally what happens is the remote reader on the outside of the building can have some error in it and city will go out and check to make sure it corresponds to indoor meter,”
“The reading off the meter is what counts,” he stressed.
“So whatever is happening in all these other billing complaints, it is completely not related to the meter changeout or the meter itself.”
One thing the city is certain of is that water meters alone are not to blame.
“We are 100 per cent confident in the fact that meters do not fail by over-reading,” said Elliott.
“That’s a technology that’s been proven and we’ve demonstrated that to council a number of times already,” he added. “They can under-read but they don’t over-read, so an overbilling problem is not related to the meter.”
Although Elliot seems confident that “it is not the meter,” an internet search of “water meter overbilling” shows that the same situation is happening in communities across North America, with lawsuits being filed in several cities.
Hill said the city shouldn’t be installing new meters until the water billing issues are sorted out.
“Clearly, the City of Cambridge is having issues with the current water meters and billing process or they would not have hired consultants to improve the water utility process and organization,” she stated in a letter to city staff.
“It would only make sense to wait to replace my water meter … to determine the issues with the entire metering and billing system.”
When this matter comes before council again in February you can be certain that Hill, and meny other will be there.