A billing error within the Clintonville Utilities was recently discovered by city staff and is said to have been caused by computer error. A total of $83,666.10 in unbilled sewer charges for 35 residential and business customers is being investigated by utility staff members as they work to correct the problem.
“We did an inventory and ran a report recently to make sure all of the billing was accurate,” explained Interim Utility Manager Okho Bohm-Hagedorn. “We found a handful of accounts that were being billed for water, but not sewer.
“At first, this wasn’t a big concern-some customers on the edge of town have their own septic systems but are on city water. These customers have a water bill, but not a sewer bill,” explained Bohm-Hagedorn.
“We then checked with the water department and went to each of the addresses in question and found that some were in error, and the property owner should have been billed for both sewer and water,” Bohm-Hagedorn stated. “We then discovered that the error goes back several months. At this point, we believe the thing that triggered it was when the city switched to a new billing system in May 2008. We are doing some investigating to make sure that is 100 percent the case, and at this point, it’s the only logical explanation.”
Bohm-Hagedorn said some customers have brought in their bills to review them with city staff. While some of the 35 accounts are residential, a few belong to businesses. Bohm-Hagedorn said this made the error more difficult to catch.
“It’s very hit-or-miss,” she said. “Some businesses have multiple accounts, and the error wasn’t on every account.”
Bohm-Hagedorn said all of the 35 customers affected by the error have been contacted through a letter, phone call or in-person visit from a city staff member. She said the city is following Public Service Commission (PSC) guidelines as they have begun the back billing process.
“The guidelines state that customers have as long to pay the amount back to us as the period of time that the error went unchecked,” Bohm-Hagedorn said. “The smallest amount to be repaid is around $8, while the largest is over $18,000 and belongs to a business.”
The PSC guidelines state that when past non-charges are found, the utility can back bill a maximum of two years or the amount of time the bill has been wrong-whichever is less. In this case, customers will have 24 months to pay back the amount that amount that was incorrectly unbilled.
A number of payment options have been set up, including a lump sum payment, monthly payment, or six-month schedule.
“It’s an unfortunate scenario, but many customers have been very understanding,” Bohm-Hagedorn said.