Chesterton Tribune



Indiana/American Water snafu affecting some Utility customers

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If your last bill from the Chesterton Utility seemed a little light, it probably was.

At least 50 and possibly as many as 200 of the Utility’s customers received a sewer bill--mailed July 22--in which they were not actually billed for consumption. Those customers were billed the fixed $23.46 base rate, but they were not billed the variable treatment rate of $5.78 per 1,0000 gallons of water consumed.

And that’s because--for reasons still unknown but possibly related to a new computer system--Indiana-American Water Company (IAWC) submitted to the Chesterton Utility so-called “no-reads” on those 50 to 200 customers’ water consumption, Utility Superintendent Terry Atherton told the Chesterton Tribune on Monday.

“We are trying very hard to identify as best we can who didn’t get billed for consumption,” Atherton said. “But it’s extremely manpower-intensive. We have to review all 5,000 accounts by hand.”

There’s more: that no-read problem may be getting worse. Atherton said that for the next sewer bill--to be mailed Sept. 19--the Utility has received fully 291 consumption no-reads from IAWC.

Eventually, every Utility customer underbilled in the last period will get a reconciliation statement. But it’s likely to be a salty one, inasmuch at it will bill the customer for both previous and current consumption. And folks whose July 22 bill was light--and who are on a strict monthly household budget--may want to think right now about making a best-guess payment on it, which will be credited to their account.

Atherton said that the Utility is doing everything it can--going forward--to manually estimate, based on previous consumption, the current consumption for the 291 no-reads received from IAWC in this billing period. As of last night, eight of the 291 no-read customers’ current consumption had been so estimated. But the process is labor intensive and time consuming, since those previous consumption histories have to be retrieved by hand. And that’s because the Utility’s new computer system was unable to integrate into its software customers’ historical usage.

As Utility Service Board President Larry Brandt said, “It’s a perfect storm. The water company has a new computer system. We have a new computer system. It’ll get sorted out eventually.”

Brandt noted, however, that the no-reads in the last biling period cost the Utility--for the moment--between $5,000 and $10,000 in revenues.

IAWC “is aware of the problem,” Atherton said. “They told us they’re going to work on a solution. But it’s going to take time, a fair amount of time. A fair amount of time meaning months.”

Atherton did add that if IAWC is unable to resolve its difficulties soon, the Town of Chesterton may be forced to file a complaint with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

As of deadline today, IAWC had not returned a call to the Tribune.

Town Council Member Sharon Darnell, D-4th, urged Utility customers to “take heed” and examine their previous bill--and their next one--closely.

“We’re trying to fix a problem someone else caused,” Darnell said. “Please be patient when you call up.”

A couple of things to know about your bimonthly sanitary sewer bill:

* The Utility calculates customers’ wastewater treatment consumption based on their water consumption. The assumption is that all water flowed from taps and showerheads, flushed in toilets, and used by washing machines ends up at the treatment plant.

* Folks are actually billed for four separate services on their bimonthly bills: for sewage treatment; for stormwater management operations; for refuse and recycling; and for brush and leaf collection.


Posted 8/27/2013