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DWP may have sent out as many as 70,000 late or incorrect bills

As many as 70,000 bills issued by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power may have been either incorrect or sent out late, according to estimates provided by the utility.

For nearly three months, the DWP has been coping with an array of problems associated with the bumpy rollout of new customer software: delayed charges, improperly calculated bills and long waits on hold for customers who call the city demanding answers.

The City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a proposed moratorium on all DWP customer cutoff notices until the billing problems are resolved. That decision comes as a growing number of ratepayers are stepping forward to tell their horror stories about the utility.

Maria Schriber, 34, said she received two overdraft notices from her bank after the DWP billed her for $1,766, an amount she described as roughly 40 times her typical bimonthly bill. Schriber, who lives in a 400-square-foot apartment, pays the utility through an automated deduction system and did not have the money available for such a large sum.

The Silver Lake resident said she spent 10 hours on the phone with the DWP and her bank trying to solve the problem. Of the seven utility employees who spoke with her, two were pleasant and helpful, four were unhelpful and one was so dismissive he made her cry while she was on the phone, Schriber said.

Last week, a DWP employee personally delivered Schriber a reimbursement check. It was for around $1,500, she said, because the DWP had undercharged her earlier this year.

“I do appreciate those two employees who were nice to me. And they refunded my money, so I’m grateful for that," Schriber said. "But the whole experience left a pretty negative taste in my mouth.”

The total cost of implementing the billing system -- including software, contractors and staff time -- is $162 million, according to the utility.  Out of 1.4 million customers, billing problems have affected an estimated 42,000 to 70,000 customers, DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said.

On Tuesday, the DWP launched a new system that allows ratepayers to dial a number and leave a message asking for a call-back -- a move aimed at cutting down long customer waiting times.

Those high call volumes have exasperated DWP customers in recent weeks. Insurance agent Eric Jacobsen said he hung up after waiting on hold for an hour and 20 minutes with the DWP earlier this month.

Jacobsen, who lives in Northridge, said he contacted the utility after it billed him nearly $3,900 for service that should have cost around $2,400. After a second call lasting 45 minutes, he found a DWP service representative.

"She looked up my records and agreed [the bill] was wrong but said it was out of her hands,” he said. “She couldn’t even tell me how long it was going to take, nor could the supervisor. That’s when I asked her, send me some money back. She said ‘We can’t. You’re on autopay.’”

Ramallo said Jacobsen, like Schriber, will receive a refund. "We have canceled the bill and will issue a corrected bill based on his meter data," he said.

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Twitter: @davidzahniser

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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