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Digital access / Environment / Municipal government

Baltimore city looks to get ‘smart’ on water billing

The administration hopes new billing systems and new water meters can help turn around a department that has recently faced scrutiny.

A water meter. (Photo by Flickr user Argonne National Laboratory, used under a Creative Commons license)

By now, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest Baltimore’s water billing system is notorious for leaving some customers all wet. After paying for an audit, and shelling out millions of dollars in refunds, even Baltimore city brass acknowledge the issues with over-billing and people receiving the wrong bills.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration believes fixing those problems starts with technology — from smart water meters to a smartphone payment code.
On Monday, Baltimore’s Public Works Department introduced a QR code for the city’s water billing system, which will allow customers to pay bills from their smartphone. Like a barcode for mobile devices, the new system gives residents the option of scanning the code that appears on their water bills, and pay the balance from a mobile device. To get access, customers just have to download a QR code reader from iTunes or Google Play.
As part of a much broader fix, city officials are also planning to implement a new system that is designed to modernize the billing process. Last week, Itineris received a contract worth $8.4 million to introduce the new Customer Information System (CIS). Dubbed Umax, the Itineris program will bill for actual consumption of water, plus service charges. In the past, the city has relied on the “minimum bill model,” which is a flat rate often used by utilities.
The new CIS is designed to allow “customers to read their water bills online and have convenient access to more information about their water usage — translating to greater confidence in the metering and billing systems,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.
Along with access to bills, the city is also looking to improve the way water meter data is collected. In the past, water usage totals for each house were estimated by DPW workers.
A network of new wireless meters, known as the Baltimeter system, are designed to make the collecting accurate. Currently, about 5,000 residents in the Midtown and Pimlico neighborhoods are having Baltimeters installed, along with another 5,000 the Bowleys Quarters neighborhood of Baltimore County. Washington-state based Itron is heading up the water meter installation. The Baltimore Sun reported the contract is worth $83.5 million.
Installation of all Baltimeters and the new CIS is scheduled to be completed by April 2016, with Baltimore County following a year later.

Companies: City of Baltimore

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