TOLEDO, Ohio — Toledo is in the midst of installing thousands of smart water meters for its residents. The city says this new meter system will provide customers the tools they need to manage their accounts.
But Maumee said that, too.
Then, dozens of customers were billed thousands of dollars in back payments when batteries failed, causing frustration and shock.
"It was a blindside," said Marty Flynn, whose bill was $2,400.
He said the entire amount was taken from his checking account without notice his bill would even be high.
Dozens of Maumee residents like Flynn hit with water bills in the thousands of dollars were given all sorts of reasons why.
Cheryl Baker said she was told, "Must be a leak. It's your sump pump. It's your toilet flap. It's your humidifier on your furnace. They said maybe someone's stealing your water."
It was supposed to be simpler, more accurate, Maumee said.
It has been anything but for some of those residents.
"3,200 gallons, 1,600. We go down to 88, 47, back up to 2,800 gallons," said Baker, pointing to her bill.
Maumee posted a letter on its website in May, 2021, informing residents of the failure of the water meter batteries, which forced the city to estimate bills.
In an email to WTOL 11, City Administrator Patrick Burtch wrote, “The very technological advances that enabled the city to provide state-of-the-art communication between meters and billing without manually reading meters has failed on a large scale.”
In 2020, Toledo launched its $88 million dollar initiative to install 126,000 water meters in two years.
"We're going to go from a read every quarter to now we're going to get a read every hour," said Cindy Geronimo, City of Toledo Commissioner of Public Utilities Administration.
In a letter to residents, the city stated the smart meters will provide them with accurate, near-real-time data on their water usage. A user-friendly portal will show usage information and provide leak alerts, reducing bills and saving money. Customers can better manage water usage and protect against high bills.
If there are any problems, the city says residents will be alerted.
"We do courtesy calls to customers to let them know that 'Hey, on our end, we are seeing something that is wrong. What are you seeing on your end?' or customers will call us to say, 'Hey, I got my bill and it's completely wrong.' And, then we will at that point look to see what went on with that account," Geronimo said.
Many of the residents in Maumee complained that when there was an issue, it wasn't resolved, or they were mocked.
Toledo says there is a process in place if anyone believes their bill is wrong and customers will be treated with respect.
"We have an internal review board that looks at it, so that's the first step. All that is on our website, too. How to initiate that and if you're not happy with that result, then it goes to the Utilities Review Board which is comprised of citizens who volunteer to be on this board to review what happened with that account and make a decision, you know, on the evidence that's presented," Geronimo said.
Geronimo said the city also changed bills to go out monthly, instead of quarterly to keep payments more manageable.
Unlike Maumee, which bills its residents for a minimum of 6,000 gallons of water, Toledo residents are only charged for the water they use.
"We knew that we wanted to implement some affordability initiatives that would help people, you know, manage their bill," Geronimo said.
The city is in the process of notifying customers who are next up to have their meters installed.
When residents get that notice, they are required to schedule the installation, which should take about an hour.
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