Some Cleveland water customers concerned about new meter installation

Consumers are worried about facing high bills

CLEVELAND - For the past five years, Rick Voiers of Bay Village has typically paid a water bill of $120 to $150 every quarter.

But two weeks ago, the Cleveland Division of Water sent him a bill of more than $600, just two months after a new water meter was installed at his home.

"I was just very surprised," said Voiers. "It was much higher than what we paid in the past."

Voiers is concerned the new automated meter reading technology in his home may have something to do with the big water bill.

Voiers explained how he contacted water department customer service about the sudden increase, but he claims he was given few answers.

"I called them, and I figured they would send somebody out to check things, or talk with the people who installed the new meter," said Voiers. "Basically all they told me was to hire my own plumber, that I must have a leak, that would be the only explanation."

Voiers told NewsChannel5 a plumber came out to his home last week, but a complete check revealed no leaks.

"I asked to speak with a supervisor, and I wasn't able to," explained Voiers. "They did not give me any other options."

NewsChannel5 contacted Cleveland Division of Water headquarters, and it responded immediately. 

A water department spokesperson told 5 On Your Side it would contact Voiers about his account, and adjustments to his water bill are on the way.

The new automated meter reading technology (ARM) is part of the water department's Clear Reads Project .

"Clear Reads and the AMR technology offer multiple benefits to our customers," said Barry A. Withers, Director of the Department of Public Utilities. "With the AMR system, Cleveland Water will obtain hourly reads from the more than 420,000 accounts in our system. As a result, we will virtually eliminate estimated bills, ensuring customers receive more accurate bills based on actual consumption."

The new meters send a low power radio signal to the outside of a consumer's home, so readings can be collected without coming to the neighborhood. Meter reads are transmitted from the customer's home to a series of data collectors throughout the service area. Under the new system, there is no need to send a truck out for most meter reads.

Cleveland water officials stress participation in the Clear Reads Project is mandatory, but there is no cost to customers for the meter upgrades, which will continue through 2013.

Water customers will be given notice about four weeks before meter upgrades come to their neighborhood. The notification will provide specific information about how to schedule an appointment.

Residents should first check for leaks at their homes if they suddenly see a spike in their quarterly bill. Information on how to make sure your water system is working properly, can be found on the Cleveland Division of Water website.

Still, Cleveland water users, like James Myers of Cleveland, are concerned about the switch to the new meter system. Myers is scheduled to have a new water meter installed next week.

Myers showed NewsChannel5 how there is a 20-point discrepancy between his old indoor water meter and the old meter located outside his home.

"My concern is are they going to charge me the difference when they install the new meter," said Myers. "Because at today's rate, it would be about $3,000, and that's just like robbery."

The Cleveland Division of Water responded to Myers' concerns with the following statement:

"Our goal as a part of the Clear Reads Project is to not penalize our customers," said Jason Wood, Chief of Public Affairs for the Department of Public Utilities. "Bills that display an abnormally high level of consumption are manually reviewed for accuracy before going out."

Wood stressed, the lower reading will be used for billing, if there is a discrepancy between the old meter and the outside reader.

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