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      Water meter cheaters steal water from Amarillo

      It may be free at restaurants, but water certainly isn't free for the residents of Amarillo. But recently, the City of Amarillo has discovered more and more residents are finding ways around paying their water bills, in other words -- stealing water from the city.

      "Not only water meters stolen," explained Amarillo Assistant Director of Utilities Floyd Hartman. "But, illegal hookups, pipes or products that aren't approved for water systems connecting pipes."

      According to Hartman, water meter readers find about six to ten of these removed or replaced water meters every single week, numbers way up from previous years when they might have only find one or two missing each week. Officials believe there could be several reasons for the increase in thievery.

      "These are the cases where people are circumventing the system, they are illegally obtaining water," added Hartman. "Probably related to the higher cost of water rates being increased but then also the amount of water being used, the heat of the summer."

      Every water meter in Amarillo is read once a month, so those stealing water are usually discovered within a matter of weeks. When that happens, the city charges that resident a 92 dollar connection fee to restart service and then has the option to lock up that meter.

      "Typically, if we find this, we do lock that tap or the meter box. Depending on the circumstance, we can lock one or the other," said Hartman.

      Tuesday, during the city commissioners work session, they discussed raising that connection fee from 92 dollars to 150 dollars as a way to deter people from tampering with their water meters. No official decision was made about that possible fee increase, but it could be discussed again in the next commissioners meeting.

      "It's a minor issue in regards to how many meters we have, 67,000 plus," added Hartman. "But, it's a major issue in that everybody else pays for their water and they're not. So, it is addressed and taken seriously from that perspective."