Tech 'glitches' swamp new water billing system - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Jan. 9, 2017 4:19 pm

Tech ‘glitches’ swamp new water billing system

The high bills were a result of IT issues, but the city says they've been fixed.

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Mayor Catherine Pugh said she’s seen media reports and the city has received calls about the new water billing system leaving customers flooded with expenses. She’s also heard about issues while in the aisles.

“When somebody is whispering in your ear at the grocery store, you’ve got to pay close attention,” she said.

So she gathered city leaders and acknowledged “glitches” with the new water billing system on Friday.

“There were some high bills that got away from us but we have very quickly fixed [the problem],” said Baltimore DPW Director Rudolph Chow. “There was an issue with our IT system, and those bills did not get captured before they went out.”

At a news conference, one reporter asked whether the city is considering privatizing the water system. But with the technology, Pugh said she is willing to give the new system a trial period, considering the city’s investment and the fact that DPW is looking to be innovative.

“This is one of the few departments that I can tell you is innovative and creative and have looked at tech that’s working,” she said. “I want to give this the try it needs in terms of its ability to do what it says it can do.”

Overall, BaltiMeter aims to charge based on actual consumption, rather than estimated use.

Chow said the new system replaced 35-year-old technology that was an IBM “green screen.” Smart meters eliminate the human error that required workers to read meters manually at every house. Customers can also pay bills online. The system is also designed to monitor usage, which helps alert people to leaks.

The changes aren’t all tech-related. The system also included a move from quarterly billing to monthly billing, and an increase in staff to talk to residents about issues. At the same time, water rates are being increased by 33 percent over three years.

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Pugh and Chow also spoke of a “culture change,” which includes adopting to the new system. She said the city can also do a better job of informing the public about the changes.

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