Back-billing bill gets mixed testimony

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Senator Clynt Ridgell introduced Bill No. 188-35 which seeks to prevent both the Guam Power Authority (GPA) and Guam Waterworks Authority (GWA) from back-billing its customers. (PNC photo)
  • Senator Clynt Ridgell has introduced Bill No. 188-35 to repeal the law that allows both the Guam Power Authority (GPA) and Guam Waterworks Authority (GWA) from back-billing its customers.
  • GPA and GWA are allowed to back-bill their customers for up to four months.
  • The legislative committee on revenue and taxation held a public hearing on the bill on Monday, Sept. 23.
  • During the hearing, the heads of GPA and GWA testified against the bill reiterating that the current law allows the utilities to back-bill its customers.

Ratepayers expressed their dissatisfaction with the current back-billing regulations — and their support for the proposed legislation that rolls back the rules allowing this practice — during a public hearing on Monday. 

Senator Clynt Ridgell has introduced Bill No. 188-35 which seeks to prevent both the Guam Power Authority (GPA) and Guam Waterworks Authority (GWA) from back-billing its customers.

“Bill 188-35 seeks to eliminate a practice that has plague many GPA  and GWA customers— the practice of back-billing. I believe that this practice is flawed, full of inconsistencies, and unfair. Most customers are not given a reason for their bill, customers are told to just accept the bill and pay the bill, or face disconnection,” Ridgell said.

According to Ridgell, he introduced the bill after receiving numerous complaints from throughout the community and after a long oversight hearing with GPA showed that the back-billing process is unfair and should be banned.

Ridgell said this back-billing occurs as a result of faulty meters and GPA admitted during the oversight hearing that one out of every four meters fails.

Ken Leon Guerrero, spokesman for Guam Citizens for Public Accountability spoke during the public hearing for the bill describing himself as “one of the many victims of this back billing procedure.”

“GWA and GPA selected meters that fail almost as often as they work and when the equipment fails, the utility should pay the price of those mistakes and not the ratepayers. After all, they have enough money to give top management excessive raises and bonuses. They have enough money to pay for the excessive revenue losses from their mistakes,” Leon Guerrero said.

Leon Guerrero added: “When it comes to back billing, the utilities act more like a criminal organization than a publicly held utility. I’ve heard many stories that the people shared with me about their — back billing horror stories and how they are being put in financial hardships at the hands of the utility mafia.”

Another ratepayer, Ken San Agustin, said: “I’m taken aback by how the utility corporations are here and approaching this bill in a manner of being a bully. Whereas, this is what we say. This is what we know, and you — Joe Public — don’t know anything.”

San Agustin also raised concerns about how the process impacts senior citizens, the manamko who have been consistently paying a certain utility rate per month and then had to shell out more after getting back-billed.

San Agustin said he heard that there’s a mechanism in place to ensure the back-billing process is accurate.

“But how accurate is that?” he asked.

Industry standard

During the hearing, the heads of GPA and GWA also testified against the bill reiterating that the current law allows the utilities to back-bill its customers.

GWA General Manager Miguel Bordallo said back-billing is an industry-standard practice used in accordance with existing laws in the vast majority of states and utilities nationwide.

“In GWA’s case, it is primarily intended as a means for customers to be billed fairly for the water that they consume when the meter is not functioning. And that is based on each customers’ usage patterns and actual average daily consumption as determined over a two-month period with properly functioning meters. Not based on a guess. It is not an average of everyone’s usage. It is based on daily average usage of that customer based on a properly functioning meter that has replaced the faulty meter.”

CCU Commissioner Simon Sanchez also testified against the passage of the bill, describing it as a “poorly conceived piece of legislation.”

He said it will force higher rate increases on all ratepayers while allowing a small number of ratepayers to receive free utility services. He added that these ratepayers continue to receive services while their meters fail to properly record their usage.

“The proposed bill effectively penalizes ratepayers with working meters while providing an unnecessary windfall of free service to ratepayers whose meters happen to fail,” Sanchez said.

Currently, GPA and GWA are allowed to back-bill their customers for up to four months. However, Guam law allows GPA and GWA to base their back-billing on estimates rather than on actual consumption.