Columbiana County officials have every right to be upset over the sheriff's department emergency telephone line and other county phone numbers being out of service for almost 10 hours Thursday. It would have been understandable had the outage resulted from a freak accident or stormy weather, but there is no excuse for Ameritech to have cut service because the county was late in paying its bill.
It's not as if commissioners David Cranmer, Jim Hoppel and Sean D. Logan purposely withheld payment to Ameritech. Columbiana County is still strapped for cash even with voter approval of a 1 percent sales tax last November, and until the financial condition improves there will be late payment on bills.
Have Ameritech officials forgotten the warning from state Auditor Jim Petro that even if the tax passed, the county would still be under state fiscal watch because of its continuing difficulties?
Explanation: We are well aware that if all its customers took their time paying their bills Ameritech would be hard-pressed to stay in business, but in this case commissioners contacted the company on May 2 and explained the cash-flow problem.
The county had planned to send a check for $9,009 against the $17,000 owed to Ameritech on Thursday, but at 1:30 a.m. the emergency phone line in the sheriff 's department went dead. Company officials, who had agreed not to implement a Thursday shut-off notice after they had met with commissioners, blame a computer glitch.
But as Commissioner Cranmer commented, "It should not have happened."
In addition to the sheriff's department, the juvenile court, dog pound and title department were also deprived of telephone service. But it is the inability of county residents to call the sheriff's department that gives us pause.
While Sheriff Dave Smith says that it does not appear any emergency calls were missed, he admits that he can't be entirely sure because callers who were unable to get through may have contacted other law enforcement agencies.
Time is of the essence in an emergency and no resident should have to play telephone tag in order to get help.
Assurances: Ameritech has a responsibility to the people of Columbiana County to explain fully why the phone service was cut off and why, in the first place, the company treated the government like some irresponsible customer. The company also should detail how it intends to prevent this from happening again.
It's not enough to blame the computer. The giant telephone company must ensure that government services are not disrupted just because a bill hasn't been paid on time.