By Jeff Gallatin
A Cleveland Water Department billing error on North Olmsted and Olmsted Township water bills in the first quarter of 2012 has left the city about $120,000 short, and officials expecting a gush of complaints.
North Olmsted finance Director Carrie Copfer said Friday that the mistake came about despite warnings from the suburban officials that the water department needed to make sure it accounted for a sanitary sewer rate increase in North Olmsted that took effect at the beginning of 2012. The sanitary sewer fee for the North Olmsted and Township customers comes in the same billing along with the water bill from the Cleveland Water Department.
“We reminded them about the rate increase and warned them that they would have to get it into the first billing cycle,” she said. “We offered to meet with them and make sure they had all the information they needed to get it done properly. They told us that they could get it done properly and that they didn’t need to have the meeting.”
Copfer said the error affects about 11,500 bills in North Olmsted and 3,300 in Olmsted Township.
“It’s affecting a lot of customers,” she said. “We’ve already gotten a few phone calls about it from people who had questions about the bill when they looked at the numbers.”
Instead of sending out corrected bills, Copfer said the water department instead will include the missing amount in the May billing cycle.
Paula Morrison, director of communications for the Cleveland Water Department, said the mistake did come at Cleveland’s end.
“North Olmsted had a major rate increase, and it was a major misinterpretation at our end,” she said. “We are correcting it and we are putting an explanation on the bill and correcting it with the May billing.”
Morrison said North Olmsted will get the money it is due.
Copfer said the actual financial amount of the error varies according to the bill and amount of water used by the customer. She reminded people that one of the key parts of the rate change was that a minimum charge of one mcf (1,000 cubic feet measurement) was eliminated, meaning customers who used less than that would now be billed for the actual amount used instead of at least one mcf. The practice of having a minimum charge has drawn fire from customers in the past, which was one of the primary reasons for that change. North Olmsted officials said it would be a fairer way of billing.
“You won’t see as much if you’re under one mcf or around one in this billing cycle,” she said. “But the customers at two mcf or more are really going to see some some differences because of this.”
Copfer and Morrison said North Olmsted administration and finance officials will be meeting with Cleveland Water Department officials next week to discuss the problems and how to avoid them in future billing.
“We’re absolutely going to have that discussion,” Copfer said. “This is something we don’t need to have done to the customers.”
Morrison said the Cleveland officials will meet with their North Olmsted counterparts to make sure they understood everything.
Paul Barker, chairman of North Olmsted City Council’s Finance Committee, said it’s tough on the customers.
“It is a shame that this happened, but we will get through it,” he said. “I can understand Director Copfer’s frustration, especially when she tried to reach out to the Cleveland Water Department. I have made statements in the past that they need to get their system in order in working with their partners, the suburbs. Unfortunately, what I have heard from the director and supervisors of that department doesn’t always reach down to the people who are doing the work.”
Barker said he hopes North Olmsted residents understand where the error took place.
“I hope our residents take this error in stride and try to understand that some things aren’t in our control,” he said. “I have seen much improvement in the Cleveland Water Department, but it appears there is some room for more.”