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Sure, You Pay Your LA DWP Bill. But Do You Understand It?

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Photo by GarySe7en via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr

Photo by GarySe7en via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
The Daily News has launched a set of columns devoted to explaining something that most of us encounter, deal with, but might not necessarily understand: Our LA DWP bill.

Columnist Kerry Cavanaugh calls it "the green monster," and says the requisite utility bill issued by the DWP "is notorious for being particularly complicated and obscure." If you've ever tried to analyze your own bill and come up short, you aren't the only one. And, it so happens that around "40 percent of calls to DWP are about customer bills, and many of those are simple questions that shouldn't require a call, such as 'When is my bill due?'"

The DWP is redesigning the bill, but that won't show up in your mailbox until sometime in 2011. In the meantime, here are some things Cavanaugh learned from their customer service experts.

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- Why does the bill come every 2 months? The DWP has stuck to the every-two-months billing system "because of the expense of hiring more meter readers or the challenges of estimating bills based on bimonthly readings."

- Are people really reading the meters? Yes, says Cavanaugh, though "Meter readers use scopes to see the gauges from a distance and can record usage by peering over your fence or from a neighbor's yard." In fact, "meter readers physically view more than 99 percent of the meters each billing cycle."

- What are all those extra fees? And why are the bills so expensive? The price of water and power is, undeniably, more expensive than before. However:

approximately 25 percent of the bill is not water or power. There are three major charges tacked onto DWP bills: Trash pickup is $72, or $36 a month; a sewer service charge covers the cost of sewer lines and sewage treatment plants; and the city of Los Angeles' 10 percent utility tax on electricity.

Are all these charges legit? If you're in a condo or apartment, your "HOA or property owner pays the trash and sewer charges," in most cases. "But why does the city collect a utility tax on a publicly owned utility that also transfers $230 million in ratepayer dollars to the city's general fund?" asks Cavanaugh. "Looks like double dipping to me." - Still confused? There's a part two to the column, next week.