City Council weighs creating commission to advise on public utility issues

A new Public Utility and Services Commission is being proposed to help tackle DPU issues.
Published: Jun. 12, 2023 at 2:49 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 12, 2023 at 4:01 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - David Mitchell’s billing issues over how much gas he uses seemed to have improved since we first met him in January, but that’s recently changed.

“My most recent billing statement was estimated once again, but instead of it being astronomically high, it indicated that I had used zero gas in the last billing cycle, which is obviously wrong,” said David Mitchell, a Richmond Department of Public Works customer.

Earlier this year, it was in the opposite direction for Mitchell. At first, it was a bill for $725, then another for $857. It was all because his meter readings were estimated and not actual ones.

A new Public Utility and Services Commission is being proposed to help tackle DPU issues.

“I think there are going to be situations where we find things that need to be fixed and improved. I think there is opportunities where maybe we find there needs to be more connection between certain agencies and departments,” said Andreas Addison, Richmond City Councilor.

City Councilors Andreas Addison and Katherine Jordan are proposing the idea.

DPU is plagued by staffing and technology issues. That means they don’t actually read thousands of meters, resulting in many customers receiving estimated bills instead of actual ones. DPU says it estimated between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts each month last year.

“When it comes down to billing, there’s been some surprises lately. Whether that be a rate increase and or a going from an estimated bill to an actual bill,” said Councilor Addison.

The department also needs a billion dollars to overhaul the city’s combined sewer system. On a rainy day, raw sewage overflows into the James River.

“I think there’s a lot of positive opportunities in that to strengthen the community’s awareness and understanding of all the work that is happening within our department of public utilities,” said Lincoln Saunders, City of Richmond Chief Administrative Officer.

Another billion will be needed to upgrade other lines, including natural gas—some of the lines under the city date back 200 years.

“I’m hesitantly hopeful, I guess. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s better than the status quo,” said Mitchell.

A council committee must first sign off on the commission, then a full city council vote. After that, members could start working early next year.