Utility targets water thieves

CITY HALL — Residents could see lower rates under Glendale Water & Power’s efforts to crack down on service theft, which drains an estimated $11 million a year from the utility’s revenues, translating into higher rates for consumers.

The City Council on Tuesday approved ordinance amendments that will strengthen the utility’s ability to find and penalize electricity and water service theft. City Councilman Ara Najarian said Wednesday that the crackdown was imperative, especially in light of the city’s budget issues.

“We are losing way too much in electric and utility theft,” he said.

Utilities regularly experience losses, but city officials have noticed that Glendale’s losses appear to go beyond the norm.

“We are pretty sure there is an issue of theft of service,” said General Manager Glenn Steiger.

The utility has not previously targeted service theft, but since more proactive measures and employee education began earlier this year, Glendale Water & Power officials have identified 22 cases of theft and recovered $21,000.

The new procedures will aid officials by making the procedures “a normal course of business,” Steiger said.

Successful recovery efforts could eventually result in a reduction of rates by several percentage points.

The proposed amendments, which go into effect in 30 days, allow the utility to disconnect services in places where service theft has occurred.

State law already bans the practice, which is punishable by fines in excess of $1,000 for crimes that range from misdemeanors to felonies.

Electricity theft can involve meter tampering, bypassing the meters completely, installing foreign meters and tapping into power lines — which utility officials said were all extremely dangerous acts.

“It’s a safety hazard both to the people that are doing it and to our employees,” Steiger said.

Officials declined to specify how water theft occurs, but noted that the practice is far less common than the drain on electricity.

The new procedures also create an appeals process through the Glendale Water & Power Commission for people found guilty of service theft.

The crackdown is part of the utility’s five-year strategic plan, which the City Council approved in March. Among the plan’s key components was an effort to reduce rates for customers.

“We need to really start enforcing it and prosecuting to the full extent of the law because those people who steal are making the rates go up for everybody else in the city,” Najarian said.

Theft of service is a national problem. The American Public Power Assn. reported that electric theft losses amount to $4 billion annually for utilities nationwide, while gas and water services amount for another $2 billion, according to a city report.

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