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High Water Bills May Get Cut by Houston City Council

Hurricane Harvey flooded hundreds of thousands of properties. These properties need repairs, and their owners need flood insurance payouts to make those repairs. Most of these costs will be taken care of once an insurance company pays their customers’ claims, but some bills are not necessarily under insurance protection. Water utility companies have handed out shocking bill amounts to Houston homeowners, and the Houston City Council is looking to do something about it.

High Water Bill Costs

Hurricane Harvey caused billions of dollars in damages—and some of these damages resulted in water bill costs that are unbelievable. One woman faces a water bill of $1,049, an amount that is significantly more than her typical monthly payment. The cause of her bill was an emergency truck that gouged ruts into her front yard. As the mysterious vehicle spun out in her yard, one of the tires broke her water meter. The fractured pipe leaked for the next few weeks, bleeding out water, and raking up her bill. This household is one of the 6,300 properties that faces a huge water bill due to Hurricane Harvey. Thankfully, the City Council of Houston has been proactive toward these charges from the storm.

Houston City Council Thinks Through Bill Cuts

Houston Public Works recognized that 6,362 homeowners’ water bill amounts had at least doubled following Hurricane Harvey. In the weeks after, Public Works flagged those accounts to stop them from being penalized or disconnected for not paying their bill. Additionally, Public Works created a hotline where citizens could call and figure out what the government planned to do about the bills. The government told residents to hold off on paying until they decided on a plan. This plan is now in discussion among the City Council.

30% of homeowners with increased water bills filed a FEMA claim before the end of November. If the council approves the bill cuts as they have said, these homeowners would have their water bill automatically reduced to their average monthly cost.

Homeowners who can show they filed a FEMA claim after November, have filed a private insurance claim, or have proof of Harvey damages will be eligible to apply for a special bill adjustment. If the council approves of the bill cuts, the affected homeowners will have 90 days to turn in an application, along with relevant documents that prove the damages, to the Public Works facility. The council will then waive the extra fees and force homeowners to pay only their monthly utility amount.

If the measure passes, the Public Works estimates that it will lose $650,000 on the 30% of homeowners who filed for FEMA before November alone. If the other 70% of affected homeowners turn in their applications, Public Works is looking at more than a million dollar loss by forgoing collections.

If the government suspends the rule, homeowners who had to refill their pools will also see some relief. The suspension will release pool owners from having to pay for the waste management charges they incurred when getting their space cleaned. They will, however, have to pay for the water that Public Works placed in their pools. If this part of the suspension passes, the Public Works system will lose an additional $17,000.

A City Councilman had this to say about the government’s proposition, “A systematic, one-time adjustment is clearly in need. I’m grateful that the department has recognized this.”

Current Option for Water Bill

If the government does not pass the suspension, Houston residents still have the means to fight their bill. If the government and the homeowner can not directly relate a high water bill to its cause, the government forces the owner to pay 1.5 his or her monthly amount while the government forgives the rest. For homeowners who cannot identify the issue that caused the exorbitant bill amount, asking the government to look into your situation is a safe bet to lower your bill regardless of the suspension vote.

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