Baltimore seeks bidders to replace entire water-billing system

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration announced Friday that it is formally seeking bidders to replace the city's entire water-billing system, which has been widely criticized due to widespread errors of sometimes enormous amounts.

The city, along with Baltimore County, is seeking to install an automated meter reading program, officials said. The Department of Public Works, which oversees water billing for 410,000 customers in Baltimore City and Baltimore Co., praised the move in a news release as a "major step toward improving customer service through replacement of our existing water metering and customer billing systems."

The new system should eliminate the need for the city to send employees to residents' homes to read their meters one-by-one and therefore cut down on transcription errors, officials said.

City officials said the new system also should cause the city's water bills to be delivered to residents on a quarterly basis, as designed. A common complaint of residents is that they receive bills sporadically throughout the year, instead of quarterly.

"Weather-related delays will no longer factor into providing our customers with timely bills," the news release states.

The system should also make it easier to residents to detect leaks, officials said. The contract could be for more than $100 million.

In February, the city auditor released a highly critical audit of the water billing system. In response to the audit, the city said it is issuing $4.2 million in refunds to 38,000 customers.

The Baltimore Sun also investigated the issue and found myriad problems with city water bills, including exorbitant overcharges and numerous residents complaining of shoddy customer services.

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