Cleveland Water Department cover-up fails to disclose serious billing errors

Records reveal billing, meter errors
Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-22 23:46:30-05

An exclusive News 5 investigation reveals the Cleveland Division of Water has known of serious billing errors for years yet fails to inform customers when bills are disputed.

A review of Water Review Board records over the last two years found serious billing errors including:

  • Water meters not properly functioning
  • Outside devices that transmit water usage data not properly functioning
  • Incorrect meter readings
  • And errors in preparing water bills

Yet when customers complain of exorbitant water bills, the water department plays dumb and consistently tells customers it's their problem.

DROWNING IN DYSFUNCTION | Our ongoing investigation into Cleveland Water

For example, Elizabeth English and her husband were both unemployed with a 9-year-old daughter at home when the water department cut off her water for 3 months.

The family was disputing a $3,000 water bill for nearly a year — never being told about the opportunity for a water review board hearing.

"I don't know if run around is even accurate," says English, "because I called and called and I left a multitude of messages and asked for supervisors. I can't even find the words to tell you what it was. I cried a lot."

Finally, she learned her right to a hearing that eventually found they were right all along — there was an $1,100 mistake when their bill was calculated.

But instead of being upfront with customers, the Cleveland Division of Water routinely covers up possible billing mistakes while keeping customers in the dark.

We also found it's impossible to know how many refunds are actually owed to customers because only a handful of water board reviews are held each year, despite thousands of complaints.

Last week, our exclusive investigation found nearly 400,000 smart meters installed in 79 communities surrounding Cleveland can be programmed incorrectly resulting in billing errors.