City of Houston

Houston City Council delays vote on proposed water bill relief ordinances

The nine proposals would’ve kicked in immediately, bringing relief to some residents whose water bills have gone as high as $1,000 or more. 

Water Faucet
Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune
FILE: Some Houston residents recently received erroneously inflated water bills because of a problem related to the installation of new meter-reading devices, according to Houston Public Works.

A series of new city ordinances that would address the unusually high water bills for some residents in Houston has been delayed. The nine proposals would've kicked in immediately, bringing relief to some residents whose water bills have gone as high as $1,000 or more.

At-Large Council Member Michael Kubosh tagged the item Wednesday, delaying the vote for another week. He stated he did not have enough time to properly review the changes after receiving the full document late afternoon Tuesday.

‘I really didn't open it up until this morning," he said. "I started reading them and I realized there's some things I didn’t like. We'll be here next week and when next week comes, we'll have two additional council members here who would want to argue the matter."

Mayor Sylvester Turner outlined the proposed update changes on Monday. They include removing the restriction on how many times a customer can seek help for water leak adjustments, offering a discount to customers who enroll in electronic billing, and giving bigger incentives to residents who fix their own private water leaks within a certain time frame.

Turner expresses his frustration with the delayed vote.

"Council Member, you mean to tell me that people are looking for help like yesterday, and you're going to deny them from starting to get their help, like tomorrow," Turner asked Kubosh.

Kubosh said council members are supposed to receive documents within 72 hours of the council meeting, but when the question was referred to the city's attorney Arturo Michele on whether it was legal to do so he stated yes.

"All we had was just a heading," said Kubosh. "Headings aren't enough, you need the actual documents to see them. We didn't get them until about 18-20 hours before the council."

Kubosh also has an issue with one proposal that would retroactively fix incorrect bills only three months back.

"I think three months is not enough to go back when we've billed people wrong," he said. "The mayor said he didn’t want anyone paying for water they did not use. We'll charge them for a year, but we'll just give them back three months – the ordinance the three council members offered had two years."

One contributor to the high water bills is that the public works department has been dealing with faulty water meters, forcing workers to estimate usage for about 40,000 customers every month. The city currently has about 125,000 meters not working and only 71,000 of the existing meters have been replaced.

Officials said they are 99% accurate with the bills, but that 1% is still a lot.

"We at Houston Public Works want to take ownership of this issue, so that we may collectively address these concerns and move forward when it comes to customers and their unusually high water bills," said Houston Public Works Director, Carol Haddock.

Houston Public Works plans on replacing 60,000 meter devices every year over the next seven years. By 2030, Haddock said more 500,000 devices are expected to be replaced city-wide.