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WATER BOARD WILL REVIEW DEBT PROBLEM

Relief may be on the way for about 800 property owners who owe Buffalo for unpaid bills because of problems with city water meters, officials said Tuesday.

The Buffalo Water Board plans to review payment records of customers involved and may douse some of the old debts, officials assured city lawmakers.

Water officials will likely grant leniency to customers with good payment histories and those victimized by faulty meters or whose meters were simply never read by the city, according to Public Works Commissioner Joseph N. Giambra.

"If we have not read the . . . meter and if a customer is a good customer, that customer is going to get consideration," Giambra told the Common Council's Finance Committee at a special meeting on the water woes.

Giambra and Budget Director James B. Milroy also assured lawmakers that each bill will be examined on a case-by-case basis, and officials plan to issue written policies for dealing with the problems they uncover.

Discrepancies first showed up last year, when city crews began replacing old meters with new ones for some of the city's 24,000 metered customers.

Remote metering units installed on the exteriors of properties often showed inaccurate readings, and city workers had not entered many buildings to check the inside meters for months, or years in some cases.

As a result, along with their new meters, customers began receiving back bills ranging up to $800 and more.

Officials blamed much of the problem on the old meters, which often failed to keep pace with the numbers on the inside water meters that registered actual water use.

Lawmakers collected customer complaints and aired them Tuesday in a special session.

However, based on the numbers of faulty meters found so far, as many as 3,200 customers ultimately may be affected by the time the city replaces all 24,000 of its old meters, officials say.

Despite Giambra's remarks, Milroy said the outcomes will ultimately be decided by the Water Board, which is responsible for collecting water fees.

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