Water Meter Replacement and Billing
City of Elkins uses remote-read water meters. Instead of needing to be read manually by human meter readers, our meters transmit reading data (i.e., how much water you’ve used), which is collected by a roving vehicle as it drives past each of the city’s approximately 4,400 water-customer locations.
We are currently replacing all 4,400 water meters, because their transmitters had begun failing. These “old” meters were and are recording usage correctly, but they stopped transmitting data to the roving vehicle.
When the “old” meters stopped transmitting, how was my usage being measured?
When meters stop transmitting, City of Elkins water bills are based on estimated readings. Estimated readings are the average of the most recent 12 months’ bills.
My bill says I use zero gallons of water, but I know I use water. Doesn’t this mean my meter doesn’t work? Isn’t it illegal to bill me if my meter doesn’t work?
Even if you were using no water at all, city council’s rate ordinance imposes a minimum charge. If you are receiving water from the city, you are required to pay at least the minimum charge. Not knowing what your current reading is, the worst-case scenario is that you are simply being charged, accurately, for using less than 2,000 gallons a billing period. The best-case scenario is that you are being undercharged. Keep in mind that when the new meters go in, you will be charged based on your actual usage each month. The city does not recapture the entire underbilled amount.
What is the minimum charge for water in Elkins?
Even when customers use zero gallons of water in a given period, they must still pay a minimum charge stipulated in the rate ordinance adopted by city council. This minimum varies according to line/meter size and ranges from $30.50/billing period for a 5/8-inch meter to $2,440 per billing period for an 8-inch meter. These minimums are also charged to any customer using less than 2,000 gallons per billing period.
Why does my bill show two meter readings?
We are currently replacing all city water meters because their remote-read transmitters are failing. When we switch out a meter, we are required to show it on your bill. The larger meter reading you see on your bill is the final reading from your old meter, and the smaller one is the first reading from your new meter. To calculate your bill after a new water meter has been installed, last month’s total on the old meter is subtracted from this month’s total on the old meter. This difference is added to the amount shown for the new meter, and that is the basis of your bill. Next month’s charged amount will be based entirely on the readings from the new meter.
If I was being under-billed during a period of estimation, does the city attempt to recapture the whole under-billed amount?
No. The number of unpaid-for gallons is divided by the number of months in the estimation period, and the customer is only charged for one month’s worth of the previously unbilled gallons.
Why do I have such a large bill all of a sudden?
When water bills increase after meter replacement, the usual reason is that water usage was previously being estimated, and it rose during the period of estimation. Such increases could result from the household adding new members or appliances. It could also result from undetected leaks that developed during the period of estimation.
In these cases, the increased charges do not result from recapturing the entire under-billed amount, which the city does not do. Instead, with the new meters in place, accounts that were being estimated are now being billed based on actual usage data each period. Accounts whose usage increased during the period of estimation will therefore see higher bills going forward.
If you have questions or concerns about a larger-than-expected bill, please call Utility Billing.
Is there a limit as to how long you can estimate a water bill?
The W. Va. Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates water and other utilities in this state, does not specify how long utilities may use estimated readings.
Is the PSC aware of these circumstances?
We have briefed the PSC about our current situation and the steps we are taking. Everything we are doing is in full compliance with PSC rules and regulations.