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Thousands of Toronto utility bills impacted due to failing water meter transmission units

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The City of Toronto will be replacing all of its water meter transmission units (MTU) after roughly 141,000 devices unexpectedly failed, causing some customers to receive utility bills that are double or even triple what they’re used to paying.

The municipality installed 470,000 of the meters across the city over the last decade or so to automate billing, eliminating the need for someone to physically check them to see how much water a given household used.

But this past winter the city saw a significant uptick in the number of units that were malfunctioning.

“While it’s common for one or two per cent of water meters and bills to have issues for several reasons annually, City of Toronto staff observed an increase in failures this past winter. While the water meters themselves are working, it was confirmed the water Meter Transmission Units were failing at a higher rate than usual following further analysis and engagement with the supplier,” Lou Di Gironimo, general manager of Toronto Water, told reporters at city hall on Thursday.

Di Gironimo said that negotiations are now underway with the vendor to secure a steady and sufficient supply of the devices in order to replace them as soon as possible, though he warned that the process could take three to four years to complete.

He said that this issue isn’t with the meters themselves, but instead it has to do with how they share data on water usage. The problem was confirmed by the supplier in early May, he said.

Lou Di Gironimo, general manager of Toronto Water, speaks to the media on July 11 at city hall.

Utlity bills impacted

The MTU failure has resulted in approximately 7,200 households not receiving their utility bills as scheduled in May and June, a city spokesperson said. Many of those customers now owe larger balances to make up for it.

South Etobicoke resident Shireen Fabing is one of those customers impacted by the faulty meters.

Her latest utility bill is more than $1,000.

“(In May), I got hit with a nice, a fat, fat utility bill,” Fabing, who said she usually expects to pay about $350 every three months, told CTV News Toronto.

“(The utility bill) had just stopped coming. And I heard rumblings about, like, you know, the meters have stopped working, and it's just going to be an estimate, and, yeah, and here it was.”

Fabing said the last time she’d received a utility bill was in August 2023.

She said that she didn’t want to pay the last one, but was worried that her utilities might get cut off.

“So I just gave a little in June and I just gave a little in July. … At the very least don’t hit us with the interest. What more can we ask for?,” said Fabing, who added that she’s not entirely convinced that the city didn’t know what was going on with its water meters.

“I’ll be blatantly honest. I think they did know, and they hid it up. They just, probably waited until it came out. Honestly, they should have gotten ahead of it and said, ‘Hey, we messed up’ right out the gate,” she said.

South Etobicoke resident Shireen Fabing is one of those customers impacted by the faulty meters.

Di Gironimo, meanwhile, said that while the “vast majority of residents are still receiving their bills appropriately,” the city has put in place a team to assist and update customers on the situation.

In a written statement, City of Toronto spokesperson Beth Waldman said those who recently received high utility bills would be “supported with options to catch up on any late bills due to this failure.”

“Customers directly impacted by the water Meter Transmission Unit failure will receive bills based on estimated water consumption, using the customer’s historical usage averages,” she said.

“The City's estimation methods have proven accurate in the past, ensuring bills closely reflect actual usage and preventing customers from receiving a bill for a longer period of time than they are accustomed to receiving.”

Waldman went on to say that those who haven’t been billed for more than five months will have their payments structured to cover four months' usage every three months until they are all caught up.

Customers also have the option to pay in full if they provide an actual meter reading, she said, noting that the delayed billing has not resulted in lost revenue for the city, but instead has caused “delays in payment collection.”

She added that anyone who has been identified as being behind schedule in their utility bill payment would be moved to a “modified billing schedule to prevent this issue from recurring.”

Customers are required to continue paying estimated bills during period when their MTUs await replacement.

They also have the option to provide manual water meter readings by calling 311, which may be used to adjust their bills while they await replacement.

“The City of Toronto is committed to supporting affected residents through these challenges by implementing fair and flexible billing measures. We apologize for any inconvenience caused and encourage customers with questions or concerns to contact 311 for assistance,” Waldman said.

With files from CTV News Toronto's Beth Macdonell

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