City settles meter dispute with local business

ity Council members voted Tuesday night to settle a water billing dispute with a local business that stemmed from an error in the way the city reads meters to gauge water usage.

After an arson fire destroyed a golf cart barn at McCormick Woods Golf Course in 2009, the owner of the course, C & M Golf, LLC, requested that the city's public works staff replace the one-inch meter that was installed as part of the building's reconstruction with a two-inch meter.

This lead the City of Port Orchard's Utility and Billing Department to under-bill C & M Golf and resulted in the business consuming 407,380 gallons of water—valued at $780.16, that it was not billed for from 2010-12.

Port Orchard Public Works Director Mark Dorsey said at the meeting that there are three different types of water meters within city limits that gauge residents and local businesses' water usage. Touch-and-read meter devices are efficient at determining residential or business property water usage, according to the increments that the meter uses to record the usage — either in tenths, hundredths or thousandths. But this doesn't necessarily mean city meter readers using the devices are communicating accurate information to the billing department on just how much water is being used.

“This was a public works error,” Dorsey said. “Unless you read the serial number and look closely you can read it with your touch read and give your information to the billing department, but if they don't have it set up correctly then nothing jumps out and says that it's wrong.”

Dorsey said that the city's utility and billing and public works departments are now checking more than 6,000 meters within the city limits to verify what specific gallon measurement the meters use to measure water usage, to prevent the city from under billing residents and businesses for their water in the future.

“Basically it's an audit of our system so that we catch all of these errors,” Dorsey said. “It doesn't take much to have a meter that you think is reading in the tenths and it is actually reading in the hundredths over a three-year period.”

The City Council voted 6-1 in favor of waiving the $780.16 utility loss incurred from under billing C & M Golf, LLC from 2010-12 and vowed to treat other businesses and residents that the city has under billed due to the meter reading mistake the same way.

“It really is our fault,” said Councilman John Clauson. “And it's the right thing to do so I support it. If we find these errors elsewhere we should treat everyone the same regardless. I do see, in my opinion, that this was an error on our part.”

Councilman Fred Chang was the sole council member casting a nay vote.

“The water has been consumed,” he said. “I'm not sure that I want all the other rate payers to absorb the cost. Anyone else who has been under billed has just as much right to complain. From an accounting point of view I understand.”

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