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Water Department To Answer Questions At Open Houses

It's been nearly a year since Mayor Frank Jackson, responding to hundreds of complaints about unresponsive customer service, faulty meters, and exorbitantly high water bills, ordered the water department to engineer a complete overhaul, issuing five dozen recommendations.

The department has missed several deadlines to fulfill that mission.

Now, Water Superintendent Chris Nielson says his team is making strides, though he admits there is much to overcome.

"Mayor Jackson made it very clear to us that he has expectations for improved customer service - but he's realistic enough to know that we can't take undertake 60 recommendations simultaneously."

Nielson has hired additional customer workers, and more meter readers, a stopgap until a proposed new 80-million dollar meter reading system comes on line.

"The legislation is currently before City Council to authorize the financing, and we expect to move forward. We will be able to read our meters basically any time of day or night, so that if our customer's got an issue, we can understand what their consumption has been."

But completion is at least three years away, and it remains just one of many planned upgrades. Nielson says the department is spending hundreds of millions of dollars rebuilding a water infrastructure that dates back to the 19th century.

Neilson hopes to explain all of this to customers who show up at the Nottingham or Crown Works treatment plants on Saturday for tours and to ask questions. Mayor Jackson is expected to speak at Nottingham at noon.

Rick Jackson is a senior host and producer at Ideastream Public Media. He hosts the "Sound of Ideas" on WKSU and "NewsDepth" on WVIZ.