Many angry Butler County Water and Sewer Department customers, including some who received utility bills for December that were two to three times more than usual, flooded the department with complaints this week.
The department spent November replacing failing batteries in water meters, which led it to estimate the bills for that month based on November 2017 readings, said Water and Sewer Director Martha Shelby.
When customers were sent bills for December, that amount included what was owed for November and December combined minus the amount paid for November, when an estimate was used. If the estimate for November was low, more than usual would be owed for December to cover the balance of the two-month period.
That led to some December bills that were much higher than they usually would be for one month, officials said.
“We decided to estimate everybody’s bill for one month, fix all the low batteries and the non-reading batteries and then be able to be fully operational through the winter,” Shelby said.
BCWS provides water and wastewater service to more than 100,000 customers in West Chester, Lemon, Liberty, Fairfield, Hanover and Ross townships, the city of Monroe and the village of New Miami.
Dozens of residents have flooded Facebook complaining about the bills — the water and sewer department received more than 450 phones calls between Wednesday and Thursday — and some wanted to know how the department could bill correctly based on a previous estimate.
“I understand if their batteries weren’t working, they needed to estimate November,” one person posted. “But when you get your actual reading in December, there should be a credit involved since November was a phantom number to begin with.”
Shelby said the department could calculate the exact usage for November and December, because the meters don’t reset at the beginning of a month. For example, if the the total usage for both months was 12,000 gallons and the department’s estimate was 4,000 gallons in November, then the balance due in December was for 8,000 gallons.
“It’s not just, okay that’s how much and then it resets itself,” she said. “It just keeps rolling, so the total usage for November and December is actually what they used.”
At least one resident posted on Facebook that a bill that is normally $80 shot up to $280, some others reported even higher bills. Shelby said a spike that high indicates the person has a leak somewhere or there is another issue, so she urged people to call them.
“Wildly fluctuating bills, lame excuses, people calling and getting nowhere,” was a comment from another upset customer.
Shelby said the department had more than 300 calls Wednesday and 150 as of noon Thursday. She said it lost some calls Wednesday because of the high volume..
“Please have patience and call us back if you feel you’ve been waiting too long,” she said to customers. “We’re here for the customers, that’s really what we do.”
Shelby took the helm of the department in September and at that time told the Journal-News she has no intention of raising the rates. The last rate hike was more than a decade ago.