MAHONING COUNTY Utilitiesface suit over billing

The residents are frustrated over the way they've been billed for gas and phones.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Six Mahoning County residents have filed a lawsuit trying to force two utility companies to open their books for an audit.
"This is going to catch the utility companies' attention," said Atty. Mark S. Colucci, who filed the suit Wednesday afternoon in county common pleas court. It's against Dominion East Ohio Gas and Ameritech.
John Paulette of Austintown said he's been trying for months to get local officials and legislators to demand an investigation into billing practices of the utility companies.
When they could find no one willing to take up their cause, he and others who feel the same way decided to take matters into their own hands and take the companies to court.
"We just got fed up with what's going on and we're going to do something about it," Paulette said.
Others who filed
Others who filed the suit are Josephine Hewlitt and Rocco Russo, both of Youngstown, Robert Carcelli of Struthers, Sam Sappi Jr. of Poland, and Gary Brant of Austintown.
Carcelli is a Struthers city councilman, but said he's involved in the lawsuit as a private citizen. The suit will be difficult because it's tough for a citizen to take on the utilities and their powerful lobbies, Carcelli said.
"This deregulation has just gotten out of hand," he said.
He said Struthers council passed a half-dozen resolutions last year asking for similar investigations by the state, but nothing was done.
The residents have unanswered questions about the utilities' billing practices, Colucci said. In some cases, they're being billed for services they don't receive, he said.
They're also concerned about things like monthly gas bills based on estimates instead of actual readings from meters.
"We just want to see where all this money goes that they're collecting," Colucci said.
Ameritech spokeswoman Denise Koenig was surprised about the lawsuit, and said the residents could have simply called a customer service representative with their questions.
"We encourage our customers to look at their bills closely and to talk to us if they have any questions," she said. There is also a corporate Web site where billing questions can be answered.
Koenig said she isn't aware of any suits like this one being filed against the company.
Dominion East Ohio spokeswoman Tracy Oliver had not seen the lawsuit so could not comment on it.

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