Houston City Council agrees to cut water bills bloated by Harvey

Jan. 31, 2018Houston Chronicle

Houston City Council agreed to forgive enormous water bills thousands of households faced after Hurricane Harvey, voting unanimously to approve a one-time suspension of its bill collection rules amid widespread anomalies.

Houston Public Works foundĀ 6,362 homeowners’ accounts doubled – or more –during or immediately after Harvey; 10 commercial or industrial accounts saw similar spikes.

After the storm, Public Works prevented those accounts from being disconnected or penalized for lack of payment while it investigated the issue, and set up a hotline for residents to call.

About 30 percent of the affected owners filed FEMA claims before the end of November, and will have their bills automatically reduced to their average monthly usage.

Others who filed a FEMA claim after Nov. 30, filed a private insurance claim related to Harvey, or can show other proof of Harvey damage should apply to Public Works for the special adjustment within 90 days and present the relevant documents.

The rule suspension also will partly reimburse homeowners who had to empty and refill their flooded pools; those residents will be billed only for the water used, rather than paying wastewater charges on the same volume, as typically would be the case.

“We’re finally getting common sense back into city government,” said Councilman Jack Christie shortly before the vote.

Mayor Sylvester Turner praised the work of Public Works officials, calling the move a “workable, pragmatic solution.”

Public Works communications director Alanna Reed said the department’s testing showed the accuracy of the city’s water meters was not to blame, noting that high bill complaints affect less than 1 percent of all accounts.