Mayor Washington E. Washington yesterday granted residents of a small Northeast neighborhood until Friday to ask the D.C. Department of Environmental Services to review their unusually high water bills.
The angry homeowners, whose payment of water bills was due yesterday, will not have to pay until after the review is completed, possibly weeks from now, if they formally apply for the review by the mayor's Friday deadline.
Despite the fact that thousands of residents have complained of receiving unusually high water bills, the Friday extension applies only to residents of the Bloomingdale community in Northeast.
Representatives of the Bloomingdale Civic Association, which organized yesterday's meeting, said they hope that enough residents of their neighborhood will seek reviews of their water bills to "clog up" the system - giving the association time to file a class action suit to require an audit of all water bills recently sent residents of the District.
The mayor's extension was granted less than a week after the D.C. City Council passed an emergency ordinance that would give all city residents a 90-day extension to pay water bills over $75. Residents who want the extension would have to request it from the Department of Environmental Services.
Before the Council's ordinance becomes effective, however, the mayor must sign it or allow 10 days to pass without action. But as of late yesterday afternoon, the mayor had not received the ordinance. The Council's legal staff had yet to forward it to the mayor's office because of "backlogs." The mayor is expected to get the bill today.
Nelson Terry, one of the leaders of the Bloomingdale group, said he considers the mayor's extension to be a "pat on the head." Terry said he thinks the city should reaudit all residential and commercial water bills instead of merely extending time for payment.
Vast differences among water bills sent to residents of the Bloomingdale area have alarmed them. Meeting in churches and in homes, they have become committed to seeking a reaudit of all their bills, their leaders said.
Until this year, the city's approximately 120,000 water and sewer customers have received bills every six months, but the water agency's errors have resulted in thousands of delayed bills, and elimination of some coustomers from the billing process for years at a time, studies showed.
This year, the 11-month billing schedule was instituted to allow the department to catch up on its backlog, cith officials said, which resulted in unusually high bills for officials said, some city residents.
"The previous billing cycle (last year) resulted in such a massive mailing that we never really recovered," said Herbert L. Tucker, director of the Department of Environmental Services, in handling customer's payments and in reviewing complaints.
Since June 1, Tucker said the environmental services department has sen 60,000 water and sewer bills. So far, he said, the department has received 5,000 complaints or requests for review.