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Customers outraged over new Water District surcharge

Customers outraged over new Water District surcharge

By Daniel Gutierrez. CREATED May 10, 2012

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- For months Contact 13 has been investigating hundreds of complaints about soaring water bills and equipment issues.

Now some customers have a new frustration and it's costing them more than they expected. Contact 13's Tricia Kean is back at the Water District, fighting to keep your dollars from going down the drain.

"When I got this month's bill I noticed it had practically tripled," says Elliot Epstein.

He owns a model airplane business in Las Vegas. He feels like he's been taken for a ride by the Las Vegas Valley Water District.

"I'm getting charged $1.20 a day on my new bill. So that's going to amount to about an additional $30 a month," says Elliot.

Which he says is more than his average bill. The extra cost is all part of a new infrastructure surcharge. It went into effect in April and is hitting all customers. It pays for projects like getting water out of Lake Mead. But Elliot says the charge is too much.

"We've been diligent in keeping our water bills down and conserving water here, and this to me is a slap in my face," says Elliot.

The Water District says the average residential customer will see a hike of $5 a month. That's because a standard home only has a 3/4 or 5/8 inch size meter. But if your meter is one inch or bigger, the Water District says you'll pay more. Just like Elliot, who has a one inch meter.

"I've never heard of that. Why wouldn't it be based on consumption," says Elliot.

He was puzzled, so he turned to Contact 13. And we went straight to the Water District to ask that very same question.

"The one that would have the smallest impact on the vast majority of residential customers was the fixed charge. And that's why they went in that particular direction," says JC Davis, Spokesperson for the Water District.

County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani is a member of the Board of Directors for the Water District and says those who use the most, should pay the most.

"The water meter size should not matter. Because it's the same number of gallons going through whether you have a 3/4 or 5/8 or one inch," says Giunchigliani.

Elliot agrees with that. But the Water District says the only way business owners like him can avoid the higher charges is to install a smaller meter.

"They want me to hire a civil engineer. A licensed engineer to determine if I'm permitted to have my meter changed or not," says Elliot.

So how much would that be? Contact 13 called a couple companies, and we were quoted a price of $2,000 to $2,500. But that's different from the Water District quote of about $500. Businesses would also have to pay another $200 for the Water District to actually come out and change the meter. So is an engineer even needed?

"To make sure what he is doing provides enough flow and pressure, he needs to have it professionally certified," says Davis. "Why doesn't the Water District do that," asks Tricia. "Because this is an option that a person is choosing to downsize their meter," says Davis.

And get this, if a business decides to downsize its meter, then finds it's not getting enough water pressure, the Water District says you could pay more than $8,000 for a larger meter.
  
"Has anybody ever downsized their meter? Do they pay for this," asks Tricia. "To date, I'm not aware of anyone who has downsized," says Davis.

But Commissioner Giunchigliani points out many customers may not even know about this surcharge yet.
   
"The business community was upset because some were not notified and I think they had a very legitimate issue about not being properly notified when the surcharge came out," says Giunchigliani.

The Water District claims it did it's part with notifications in the mail and public workshops. But the Commissioner says that's not enough, and she wants to form a committee made up of business owners and residential customers to examine the surcharge. Still, Elliot has plenty of questions.

"No matter what I decide to do I'm in a no win situation," says Elliot.

So here's the Contact 13 bottom line. You still have a chance to voice your complaint. The Water District Board of Directors meets Tuesday, June 5 at 9:00am at the Clark County Government Center. And the public is invited to voice their concerns about this surcharge and any other Water District complaints. And don't forget we've got your back Las Vegas.

If you're not getting answers from the Water District, let us know. Email us at 13investigates@ktnv.com.