Frisco Public Works Director Gary Hartwell is showing off his utility bill, and it's not pretty.
His August utility bill: $132.26, including $93.70 on the line item for water – about three times what it was the same month a year ago.
“I knew last year that the usage was low,” he says on a video the city staff has made to address concerns of residents who were shocked by how much their bills had jumped during a dry couple of months with less restrictive watering rules in place than Frisco faced a year ago. View it at firscotexas.gov.
“I knew that when I turned on the sprinkler system, my usage was going to go up,” he continues on the video. “When I got my August bill, I noticed that usage had gone up maybe three times [to 23,000 gallons], and that’s exactly what it should have been.”
In addition to complying with water restrictions from the North Texas Municipal Water District, the city of Frisco recommends residents use water only as needed. To that end, the city operates its own weather station and provides weekly watering advice through its Water Wise program online.
Following that advice the past five years has kept the lawn green at his home of 11 years and kept his utility bill low last summer when six different weeks the recommendation was for no watering at all, Hartwell said.
By contrast, this summer offered only two weeks when no watering was recommended, but two weeks recently when twice weekly watering was suggested.
“We’ve gone over 60 days with less than a 10th of an inch of rain in July and August, and we really haven’t had much rain in September,” Hartwell said.
Frisco has seen the results of that dry spell in citywide water usage of 49.6 million gallons per day (mgd) this August, up from only 24.3 mgd in August 2014, the city staff reports.
City staff members also have seen the results of that dry spell in the flood of calls to Utility Billing and Public Works and have also sought to address the issue at recent City Council meetings and this week’s Town Hall meeting.
“We probably handled 10,000 in the past 45 days,” Assistant City Manager Nell Lange
said earlier this month. “We get a lot of customers frustrated because there’s nobody to take the call, but in Utility Billing you may have 25 calls coming in at one time, and you’ve only got four people to answer calls.”
The city’s phone system asks callers to leave a message, and Lange encourages residents to do just that, because those messages are returned.
Many callers insist that their bills must be in error, but city leaders report that bills are correct and can be blamed on either high usage or leaks.
“We are not in a dark room somewhere figuring out how to raise the bills of our customers,” Mayor Maher Maso said. “Everybody sitting up here [on the Frisco City Council] pays a water bill.”
And all water customers are metered individually, Hartwell said, noting no one’s bill is a result of being averaged with anyone else’s usage.
Water customers are much more likely to receive some water they aren’t charged for than be charged for water they didn’t use, city staff said.
The video shows Meter Supervisor Ryan Hahn, whose team is responsible for maintaining Frisco’s water meters and testing their accuracy.
“We want to keep that meter accuracy anywhere from 95 to 100 percent,” he said, noting that at 99 percent the customer actually receives one gallon free out of every 100 gallons.
The city also flags and investigates unusual readings before billing customers, Utility Billing Supervisor Brett Peterson said.
Of Frisco’s more than 49,000 utility accounts, the city staff looked into the 120 flagged as irregular in August.
“None were a misread or an over read,” Peterson said.
The city’s irrigation specialists will come out and perform free checks on sprinkler systems, which can have multiple programs and may be running more often than property owners realize.
Also, Hartwell noted, sprinkler systems can also use more water than customers realize.
“I can tell you during the winter months my wife and I use about 2,500 gallons,” he said, the same amount of water used by operating his sprinkler system once. “So sprinkler systems can really put the water out there.”