Flint, MI: Computer Problems Cause Water Bill Headaches

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City may hire firm to fix water bills

Thursday, February 10, 2000 By Christofer Machniak JOURNAL STAFF WRITER

FLINT Still perplexed by problems with the new computer water billing system that have caused frustration across the city, officials want to hire the software's manufacturer to help.

The City Council likely will consider contracting the Pennsylvania-based SCT - which would cost between $100,000 and $140,000 - during its committee meeting on Monday.

The company's consultants would spend three months in Flint, but City Administrator David H. Ready said they should at least be able to diagnose the problem and find a solution within three weeks. Teldata Inc., which sold the city the software, has been working with the city to correct the problem.

"This, we feel, is the best strategy to finally resolve the billing issues," Ready said. "They can make it work. ... This is an extreme measure we're taking to repair and fix the problem."

Ready announced the possibility during a City Council finance committee meeting Wednesday after Council members expressed frustration over the ongoing problem. For months, late bills and bills based on estimated use have drawn ire from many of the more than 40,000 residential water customers who say the bills are inaccurate. "My patience is really getting thin with this," 4th Ward Councilwoman Peggy R. Cook said during the meeting. "We need to come to some resolution on this."

Cook later said she has heard complaints from her constituents, including one resident who was billed nothing for three months and another who was billed $32,000. That person went to city officials, but his next bill also was for $32,000, she said.

In response to complaints like those, the Council approved a resolution on Jan. 24 requiring that water charges be based on the average that customers paid from June 1 through Dec. 31, 1997, before the city started estimating bills. The measure also required that any water customer who was billed more than that average during 1999 receive a credit. The rule was to apply to bills sent out starting this month, but the administration refused to implement it. Ready said the resolution is impractical to enforce because it would delay the solution even longer. He said many residents also would be charged more than they are now.

"I think the council was less intent on us implementing that and more intent on us finding a permanent solution," Ready said.

Cook said the city has not provided the council with enough information about the problem.

"When these things happen, we need to come together and work them out and we need to know what's going on because the constituents call us," Cook said.

Seventh Ward Councilman Matt Schlinker said in retrospect he is glad the city did not enforce the resolution because it would cause more confusion.

Schlinker said the city, however, should follow suggestions made by Council members last week. These include sending all customers letters about how the situation will be fixed and setting up a streamlined method to answer bill questions. The current method in which customers must speak to several people before getting a formal hearing is too bureaucratic, he said.

"We need some simple plan in place that is friendly to the customer where their situation is analyzed and resolved as quickly as possible," Schlinker said.

Ready said he is asking residents for patience. He advises residents to pay their bills and any overpayments will be credited once everything is worked out.

"We've been giving customers, because of these problems, certainly more latitude, but I would strongly encourage residents to at least pay their estimated bills," he said.



-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), February 10, 2000


He advises residents to pay their bills
and any overpayments will be credited once
everything is worked out.

was billed $32,000 !

But they won't be cutting off people's water
if they don't pay anything until they get a
correct billing:-'

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), February 10, 2000.

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