Water meter mayhem for customers in Avra Valley

Issues over water

AVRA VALLEY (Tucson News Now) - Worries about water bills prompted a packed house for the Marana Domestic Water Improvement District regularly scheduled meeting in Avra Valley Monday night.

Hundreds of customers have received bills higher than usual, in some cases more than three times as much.

Eric Cramer, a disabled veteran on a fixed income, said he was promised a prorate and no late fees for his most recent bills. He's willing to pay for any water he uses but he cannot understand why he received two bills in one month or another bill that was almost $300.

"To just break everything that says and do it anyway is just ridiculous," said Cramer. "These people deserve to be in jail."

Cramer was one of a couple dozen customers to listen to the district's board of directors Monday night.

District Manager Jed Baker provided an explanation for everyone that mirrored what he told Tucson News Now. Baker, new to the position since late May, said the utility's workforce quit before he started. Not only did he have to handle the turnover, Baker realized that many meters had not been properly read for months.

"We're never going to be able to do it in three days," he said. "And the billing system indicates that meters were read in three days. I don't think so."

Baker doesn't think the data that shows nearly 900 meters were read in three days by the previous employees makes sense. His new team checked them all in about eight days and did it in less time on their second outing. He acknowledged they'll be quicker with practice, but three days doesn't seem possible.

Before the new readings could be complete, the district needed to bill customers for what they had already used. Baker said an estimate was made from previous months. He said in many cases customers paid for what they were told was a fair share of the water they used, but it actually wasn't enough money.

That's not the customers' fault, according to Baker. He said the district lost a couple million gallons of unpaid water use, but the customers are not to blame. Now that proper readings are being handled, he said some folks might be surprised to learn the actual cost of their water use.

"I'm not going to make excuses for what we're doing now," he said. "We're working through it. We are transparent. I welcome anybody auditing it, answering as many questions as we can."

Baker said he welcomes outside oversight or an investigation because he doesn't have the time or resources to focus on that. His priority is moving forward with proper billing and making sure the water quality remains safe.

Some customers, like Cramer, hope that someone can step in to help hold whoever left the district in this situation responsible.

"If somebody was stealing and someone was taking our money and/or someone's messing with our water, I would enjoy seeing them prosecuted," he said.

Suggestions from the crowd at Monday's meeting included board members reaching out to the community for assistance or possible volunteer efforts, checking with the local vocational program for students to potentially improve the district website and generally boosting the transparency within the organization.

Baker said improvements to the website and transparency are already in the works.

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