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City agency undercharged $2M in water bills: audit

Anyone with fifth-grade math skills would have caught it, but the bureaucrats at the city’s Department of Environmental Protection never questioned water bills so low that they defied belief.

The 27-story building at 110 Wall St. was billed a grand total of $195 — for two years.

The Hilton Hotel in downtown Brooklyn has 196 rooms, so it obviously uses a lot more than $132 worth of water over four months. But that’s all DEP billed.

The Red Carpet Inn in Brooklyn got away with $1,837 in water charges — for four years of usage.

The unintended breaks came to an abrupt halt after city Comptroller Scott Stringer audited the water bills for selected commercial properties and discovered the enormous undercharges.

Turns out 110 Wall should have been billed $382,000. And the actual tab for the Hilton was $239,524. Red Carpet should have been debited for $67,439.

In all, auditors uncovered $2 million that was owed to the city in water and sewer charges.

Several spots didn’t get charged at all.

Bard College was allowed to go 1,462 days without dropping a dime for water because it was incorrectly listed as exempt.

The school has been using a former Roosevelt Hospital property as dormitories since 2001. That property had been exempted decades earlier, but apparently no one told the DEP that the exemption was no longer valid, officials said.

In Brooklyn, both the Days Inn at 1766 E. 49th St. in Marine Park and the Gowanus Inn never got a bill, despite owing $19,321 and $9,325, respectively.

DEP failed to send bills “because the plumbers who installed their meters failed to return the relevant permits upon completion of the meter installations,” the audit found.

Officials said that city has so far collected $1.8 million of the $2 million owed.

“It is troubling that while no one at DEP was minding the store, some of the largest properties in the city were undercharged,” Stringer told The Post.

DEP spokesman Edward Timbers pointed out that just a tiny percentage of the water bills were questioned.

“The audit verified that 97 percent of the water/sewer accounts reviewed were billed correctly, and 3 percent of the accounts were initially under-estimated due to a broken electronic meter reader, something that would have been automatically reviewed and corrected in the regular course of business, and has been done now,” he said.

Officials explained that automated meter readers send electronic signals to DEP that measure water usage. As a result, a malfunctioning meter can wreak havoc until an inspector gets an actual reading.