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By Allison Sheff

Have you been hit with a water bill that seems like it’s better suited for 10 homes instead of your 1,500 square foot townhouse?

You’re not alone. Nearly 200,000 water bill accounts were switched to a monthly billing system in October but the process has been anything but smooth. The new “Balti-meter Billing System” is supposed to make water bills more exact. There is no minimum usage fee and it’s billed monthly. Yet, some residents are seeing bills topping $1,000. The city clearly has some work to do on making this system work correctly.

Ideally, everyone will get a reasonable monthly statement with access to an online portal showing how each household uses water and how it is billed. I have yet to see my activation code that will allow me to complete the online account registration. Until I get that, I cannot get into the portal. My bill does come with a graph of our water usage but frankly, it is a little bit like Greek to the untrained eye.

In addition, we are set to see water bills rise 33% year over year – how on earth will people pay for that if their bills are already reaching 5 and 6 figures? There are payment plans and the city does not want to shut off customers’ water; yet, they did shut off 13,000 accounts in 2016. It is surprising that there does not seem to a rush from the city to get these outrageous bills corrected. Here are the steps you should take if you find yourself staring down a whopper of a bill:

Report the problem to DPW Customer Service immediately. They will need to check for leaks on their end as well as any issues with the meter (call 410-396-5398). Note that an unpaid balance of $250 or more over 45 days results in a delinquency notice and turn off. You will need to take the issue up with the city the moment you see a problem in your bill. Check for leaks in your toilets, drains, and pipes. A plumber can check for leaks in all of the likely places and provide you with a written statement of what he found. Get any leaks fixed. If no leaks are found, keep the paperwork to provide to the city. You will also want to notify DPW in writing of the issues and request an adjustment after repairs have been made. If you still feel the adjustment is not correct, file an appeal immediately. If you cannot pay, dial 2-1-1 to find out if you’re eligible for financial assistance paying your water bill. Allison Sheff is guerilla’s newest agent and a fourth generation Baltimorean. Schedule an appointment with her here.