Water department workers gave $110 million worth of unauthorized discounts: City Controller

Workers at Philly’s Water Revenue Bureaureduced customers’ bills to the tune of $110 million in 2014, without authorization,according to an audit from the city controller’s office.

“It is a lot of money,” said City Controller Alan Butkovitz.

According to the controller’s office, the city’s system for tracking water bills gave employees the authority to — in some cases — remove charges from bills or cancel them altogether. They did not need a manager’s approval to do it.

That means that the reductions could have been proper, or workers could have reduced a bills for friends or family. Because there was little oversight, accountants had little way of knowing.

The reductions came even as administrators in the water bureau worked to review them. According to the audit of the bureau, administrators began reviewing adjustments every three months in 2014. But those reviews weren’t conducted for the last half of the year.

In a response to the audit, the city tracked which employees were reducing each bill.

About 130,000 water bills were adjusted in 2014. The bulk of the adjustments were for very large bills above $1,000. Customers with those bills saw $94 million in reductions.

The typical bill is $75, the department says.

Though the workers did not need to get approval for adjustments, they did need to categorize them. In all, workers were able to simply cancel $36 million worth of water bills. Other reasons for the adjustments included shifting of responsibility to other people — this is common when a house is sold, and replacing a bill — this might occur when someone demands the utility employees re-read the meter.

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