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E-mails between ESD and EP Water show confusion over billing “glitch”

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EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso Water customers who were inadvertently overcharged for their Environmental Services Department fees should seeing a refund on this month's bill.

ABC-7 first noticed a 20% increase on the ESD side of the bill last month and began asking questions of the department as to why the trash collection service charges were increasing. The initial request for clarification was sent on March 30, but it wasn't until April 7 when El Paso Water sent out a news release saying it was a glitch with the new billing system that caused the overcharging of about 122,000 customers.

The water utility also cited being understaffed as a reason for delays in responding to billing issues.

ABC-7 obtained e-mails between ESD and EPWater during that time that illustrate confusion as to what was causing the problem.

A City of El Paso employee e-mailed El Paso Water asking the following on April 4, just hours prior to ABC-7's report about the ESD charges increasing by 20%:

"1. How many accounts were affected by the billing error "glitch"?
2. What caused the error in billing?
3. Will the issue be corrected by next month and going forward?"

An El Paso Water representative responded: "What is the nature of the glitch? Do you have any details, accounts that has caused this?"

ESD EPWater Email 1 by David Gonzalez on Scribd

That then prompted a request from ESD Managing Director Ellen Smyth for a video conference between both sides to "get on the same page." Smyth wrote in an e-mail to El Paso Water President & CEO John Balliew about the billing issues: "media is asking and I really don't have an answer for them."

ESD EPWater Email 2 by David Gonzalez on Scribd

The video conference occurred on Tuesday, April 5. It resulted in an EPWater spokeswoman clearing the following statement the city could release: "We are aware of an issue with ESD charges on the EPWater bills. We are working on a solution for affected customers."

But ABC-7 did not receive a response from the city on the matter on April 5 or 6 and reported both nights we were still working on a response.

It wasn't until April 7 when ABC-7 was granted an interview with Smyth. Just prior to that interview, El Paso Water sent out the news release stating the rate hike was an error on their end and the ESD charges were not increasing.

Smyth told ABC-7 during the interview on April 7 she did not even learn of the rate hike until she saw it on her own water bill.

El Paso Water temporarily suspended disconnections for non-payment as customers transition to using the new system and said affected customers should see refunds on their bill as soon as this month.

ESD EPWater Email 3 by David Gonzalez on Scribd

ESD EPWater Email 4 by David Gonzalez on Scribd

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Erik Elken

Erik Elken co-anchors ABC-7’s flagship newscasts.

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