Before it was consumed by Ahmed Mohamed's clock, Dallas' broadcast media's late summer obsession was listening to people complain about their water bills.
“Four times higher,” The Colony's Jim Budney told KXAS at the end of August. "Hasn't been that much hotter, we've been watering the lawn with the same regularity, and only the two of us in the house, so it's a big discrepancy."
WFAA found its complainers in the city of Dallas itself, near Jesuit high school.
"We have a neighborhood message board and email deal,” Maria Tuttle said. “It was just blowing up last week with all kinds of people talking about their water bill.”
KTVT reported from a meeting with city leaders in Garland early this month. The city said it hadn't found a single faulty meter. Residents said they didn't trust the city.
“Something has got to be wrong if all of us are out here complaining about the same thing!” said one woman in the crowd.
Monday, Dallas Water Utilities Director Jody Puckett, said that, in Dallas at least, nothing is wrong, despite the complaints.
Dallas City Council members summoned Puckett to a meeting of the Budget, Finance and Audit Committee because they've been inundated with complaints from constituents who believe they are being billed too much, that their meters are malfunctioning or that rates have been raised without advanced notice. Puckett says none of that's happened. Bills are up, she said, because of an extremely wet May being followed by an extremely dry summer. The wet weather meant no lawn watering, which can make up the bulk of customers' bills. Now people are watering again, so the bills are going to by higher, Puckett said.
"I don't think we've over-billed anybody," Puckett said. "Generally speaking, people have watered because it didn't rain".
Dallas uses a tiered system for water billing, as usage gets higher, so do the rates. If you abstain from high usage activities, like watering your lawn, you can end up without triggering the higher tiers at all, keeping your bill really low. Malfunctioning Dallas meters, because the city uses mechanical meters exclusively for residential customers, measure less water over time because their gears spin slower, so that wouldn't account for any over billing either, Puckett said.
"There's no nefarious conspiracy, there's no mid-year rate increase, there's no computer malfunction," she said.
Philip Kingston questioned Puckett as to whether 100 percent of the complaints he and his colleagues had received stemmed from people receiving correct bills. Puckett said that no one has received an incorrect bill to her knowledge, but some people might have a leak. If they repair it, Puckett said, they might be eligible for a bill adjustment to compensate for the price of leaked water. Puckett did concede that it might be better if the city actually showed water rates on its bills, but it hasn't done that since she started working for DWU.
Under certain circumstances — if a meter reader can't get to the meter box, for instance — DWU may estimate a meter read, but any overcharges are corrected when the meter is next read in person. Of the 300,000 water meters in the city of Dallas, Puckett guessed 5 percent weren't actually read in a given month.
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