SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - According to a new report by the city of Shreveport's Internal Auditor, the Water and Sewage Department is running a high risk of possible fraud, waste, and abuse, when it comes to the department's water meter reading and billing.
The audit dated October 4, 2017, and first obtained by KSLA, indicates that the water department staff is often slow in responding to meter repair issues, possibly costing the city and water department customers untold sums of money.
Additionally, an automatic meter reading (AMR) system costing the city $7.4 million, designed to improve efficiency and revenue collection, is not being used according to the report.
The audit suggests that the city determine how much it would cost to repair or replace the AMR system initially installed in 2009 through 2010. The audit also states that billing software the city purchased for $3 million is incapable of detecting and stopping the overbilling of customers who automatically pay through checking/savings accounts.
The internal audit also supports a KSLA investigation, that the city water department is largely unable to process reports on broken or malfunctioning meters that are recording abnormally high water usage. Our reporting details instances of customers complaining of skyrocketing bills at homes with suspected malfunctioning meters. In those cases, the city claimed monthly charges in the hundreds of dollars, was due to leaks inside the home. However, the residents or their landlord hired plumbers, who found and fixed minor issues, only to have the next month's water bill increase more than $100.
The audit does not indicate the number of meters registering abnormally high or low water usage. But 70% of the accounts registering abnormal readings are chronic, meaning the inaccurate water usage totals span multiple billing cycles.
Currently, there are 81,000 meters in Shreveport that produce bills for 66,000 customers. The report states that each of those meters is manually read every month, despite the Water Department admitting the "meter shop area" is severely understaffed.
In its published response to the audit, the Water Department writes under the circumstances "we are doing the best we can to keep up."