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Baltimore will conduct a sweeping audit of its water billing system after discovering the city failed for more than a decade to collect a total of $2.3 million from the Ritz Carlton Residences, a high-end waterfront condominium development. The Ritz-Carlton Residences are seen in this file photo.
Baltimore will conduct a sweeping audit of its water billing system after discovering the city failed for more than a decade to collect a total of $2.3 million from the Ritz Carlton Residences, a high-end waterfront condominium development. The Ritz-Carlton Residences are seen in this file photo. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore will conduct a sweeping audit of its water billing system after discovering the city failed for more than a decade to collect a total of $2.3 million from the Ritz Carlton Residences, a high-end harborfront condominium development, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s office said Wednesday.

“We’re going to do a comprehensive review of the water billing system, primarily to make sure that all of the accounts in the city that should be getting billed are being billed,” said Sheryl Goldstein, chief of operations for the Democratic mayor.

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“I’m a little pissed off and upset,” said Young, who became mayor this spring.

On the waterfront near Federal Hill, the Ritz Carlton Residences is composed of nearly 200 condos with sweeping views Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Representatives for the complex and its condo association could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Goldstein said a meter was installed at the complex in 2007, and has continually recorded readings. But she said the city Department of Public Works didn’t gather the readings or input them into the water billing system, so no bills were generated or sent to the condo association.

Goldstein said the city is now in touch with the condominium association about the issue.

"We’re in discussions with them and will continue to discuss this issue with them,” Goldstein said. She said the city legal department is involved, including working to determine whether the $2.3 million can be recouped.

“We need to research and understand why this happened.”


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The city also is installing at the property one of its newer meters, first rolled out in 2016, that automatically submit readings to the billing system.

“We had people out there today to start working on that,” Goldstein said Wednesday.

The missed billing is Baltimore’s latest issue with the water billing. After a ransomware attack earlier this year, the city couldn’t issue bills for months. Also, water rates have risen repeatedly in recent years, to the consternation of some residents. And in years past, the city acknowledged many major companies owed millions of dollars in delinquent bills.

“I screamed about it then," Young said of past problems. “But now I’m at the helm, so something is going to be done about it.”

Goldstein said the city is not sure if the Ritz Carlton is the only property that has not been billed in recent years.

“This is why Mayor Young is calling for an audit,” she said. “We need to research and understand why this happened. We need to research and determine whether this has happened at any other property. And if it has, we will find it and take action.”

The audit will involve staff from multiple agencies to ensure a comprehensive review, including Housing and Community Development, CitiStat and the city’s IT department, she said. CitiStat is an agency that helps provide and organize data to guide city policymakers.

Young said water billing accounts will be compared to real property records and development permits, and the results of the audit will be made public.

Water activists in the city have called attention to what they say are a list of major properties that aren’t reflected in the water billing system. They say billing is not conducted equitably across the city.

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Matan Zeimer with Jews United for Justice, a member group of the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, said the fact that Ritz Carlton residents have not been paying for water is a prime example.

“The city is not collecting water payments from major properties and corporations, and yet the city is then chasing down or penalizing residents who owe a couple hundred dollars,” Zeimer said. “There’s just a great discrepancy there and a big issue of equity and accountability.”

Zeimer said city officials, including Young, should not be allowed to act naive as to the fact that major property holders aren’t being billed for water as they should be in Baltimore.

“I wouldn’t want the mayor to dismiss this as possibly happening. We know it’s happening,” he said.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said other properties pointed out by activists would be included in the audit to ensure everyone is paying for water.

Young said the failure of the public works department to collect payments for water from the Ritz Carlton or other city properties was unrelated to the retirement, announced last week, of longtime Public Works Director Rudy Chow.

In addition to Young’s promised audit, a separate financial audit due out on the public works department has been delayed. After Councilman Bill Henry raised concerns about that, a proposal to extend the contract of Itineris, which provides the city’s water billing system, was postponed on Wednesday by the city’s spending panel.

Comptroller Joan Pratt, whose office oversees such audits and whom Henry has announced he is running against in 2020, did not respond to a request for comment.

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