Mee, for example, typically pays about $78 a month for water services. But in June, her family spent two weeks in Napa, California. Then, in July she spent a week in the hospital while her husband was away.
“So three of those weeks we weren’t even home,” she said.
Then her bill came in the mail — for $500.
She’s hardly alone in feeling “very suspicious about what’s going on.”
The Dayton Daily News and WHIO first reported the water billing issues online Friday afternoon. By Monday, the story had been read more than 10,000 times.
Reader feedback was almost immediate. More than 70 Greene County residents contacted this newsroom to share concerns about the bills.
“I just want to let it be known that there’s something seriously wrong with the new Greene County water bill system,” wrote Marie Smith, whose monthly bill ranges between $150 and $200.
“After not getting a bill for a few months, the bill came in at over $900,” she said. “This is really ridiculous.”
Because of the high number of residents calling county offices in an effort to get answers, the county’s phone system became overloaded, and an AT&T representative was at the sanitary office on Monday in an effort to fix it.
New system caused problems
County officials knew there was a problem with the new water billing system when it was implemented in June, according to Ron Volkerding, director of the Greene County Sanitary Engineering Department.
“Issues arose with converting data from the software program used to obtain readings from customer water meters to the new billing program software,” Volkerding said.
To generate residents’ water bills, the system relies on the meter reading software to communicate with the billing software.
Volkerding said after a series of tests, they thought they were “over the hump,” but when the county could not prepare July’s bills, an announcement was published on the county’s website informing customers of the delay in billing.
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The county’s previous system was developed “in house” many years ago and it could no longer be supported, Volkerding said. The software that the county has transitioned to is called inHANCE, a subsidiary of Harris Operating Group of Constellation Software Inc.
June’s bill is based on the actual meter readings from May, while the bills for July and August are based on estimated service usage.
Volkerding said residents should pay what they typically pay, and any overpayments will be credited on the accounts.
“The county will obtain meter reads this week which will be used to calculate September bills for actual usage minus previously billed estimates,” he said.
Volkerding added that for customers who pay less than the estimated amount, no penalties will be charged for the current bill and there will be no normal disconnections for delinquent balances for the months of August and September.
Kathryn Schwieterman said she is “astonished and disappointed at how Greene County has handled this situation.”
Schwieterman lives in a two-adult, one-child household. Before this bill, her highest one-month water usage was 7,500 gallons after hosting nine house guests. “Greene County then estimated that we used 9,000 gallons … bringing our total bill to $352.74,” she wrote.
“I understand that there was a problem during their software update, but that does not excuse the widespread overcharging of customers across the county.” She added, “I worry that if there are no repercussions for their lack of fidelity, Greene County will continue these dishonest practices in the future.”
Many residents shared similar stories: They called the county water department, but couldn’t get through to a person. And if they got through to a person, they couldn’t get answers.
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Some said they felt no choice but to seek help from the newspaper.
“We don’t know what to do or where to turn,” said Ed Kirkland, of Beavercreek. “The bottom line is, when we go from a bill being $36 to $208, that’s a big difference … I’ve been in finance for 21 years, and I can’t figure out how they got their estimate.”
Like Kirkland, other residents also expressed professional bewilderment.
“If I — as an engineer — were to perform a change at work … without notifying somebody, I’d lose my job,” said Darin Martin. The 15-year Greene County resident said he has more than 30 years in the information technology field, including experience in installing billing systems.
“I think their lack of a response is really, really poor,” he said. “They need to be official about it and own up.”