Cuyahoga Falls -- Attendees of City Council's Sept. 6 meeting seemed to be observing Festivus as one by one they participated in the airing of grievances.

While it was not the time to mark any holidays introduced on "Seinfeld," it was an opportunity for residents to voice their concerns about their utility bills.

During the summer, many residents contacted city officials with various concerns about their utility bill: Some felt the amount of their bill was incorrect, others had received multiple bills in a short period of time and still more had not received a utility bill in a long period of time.

And while the mayor, service director and several department heads provided explanations during the Sept. 6 public affairs committee meeting, not everyone in the audience was satisfied.

But Council's first day back after the August hiatus was far from a holiday. People were upset. Voices were raised and negative feelings were shared both in prepared remarks at the podium and spontaneous outbursts of doubt and ridicule in the audience.

About 200 people were in attendance.

In mid-June, the city began switching over to a new utility billing software because the old system was "obsolete," a city news release said.

"There's a little anger going on with the folks here, and me too," said former councilman Terry Mader. "This should have never happened." Mader said when he worked for AT&T and the company was upgrading a system that affected phone service to its customers "we never disconnected the old systems until the new systems were totally bug-free. To me, this is totally unacceptable / that old system should have been running parallel with the new [system]."

Mayor Don Walters said there was an issue with three separate software programs that didn't communicate with each other. Walters said one of those software programs is related to automatic meter readers. The readings were not coming in automatically, he said, so meter readers had to manually gather the meter readings of 4,000 customers.

"We had to work out that problem," Walters said. "Once we got the reads we could send the bills out; however, now we're delayed in the next billing cycle, and the next billing cycle." Walters said there are six billing cycles.

The delays caused a number of discrepancies in the number of days in the billing cycles, he said.

"I'm not happy," Walters said. "You expect a bill every 30 days, like I do. Every 30 days you should be getting a bill you can plan on and budget." Walters said some people didn't get a bill one month, then got two the following month.

"[The cause] wasn't one thing that we could point to," Walters said. "It was the communication of all the softwares that did not work as they did when they were tested." The mayor said the city is working with the software companies and "it looks like we have the bugs out."

"I know what you're feeling right now / I understand your frustration. I understand your confusion," the mayor said, adding anyone could meet with him and others following the meeting to look at their bills. Several people walked next door and met with city officials.

"I apologize this happened," Walters said. "We will work through it, but we have to do it individually / We're going to help you get through this."

Walters said Summit County is going to conduct an audit of the utility billing department's records.

See the Sept. 11 edition of the Cuyahoga Falls News-Press for the complete story.


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