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MAHONING COUNTY Online utilities billing is sought



Published: Fri, February 28, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Under Tablack's plan, bills would be submitted online instead of in the mail.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County's auditor says cyberspace will put a stop to delinquent utility bills.

Auditor George Tablack said he wants commissioners to allow him to receive bills electronically via the Internet, which would allow him to pay them faster and prevent the county's getting hit with late fees.

"If we do things that way, there is no way we're going to miss a payment deadline," Tablack said.

Disconnection notices

The Vindicator reported Wednesday that the sheriff's department had received disconnection notices for failure to pay its water, sewer and natural-gas bills. The utilities have not been shut off, though, and the bills are expected to be paid in time to avoid it.

County Administrator Gary Kubic said bills are sent to individual users, such as the sheriff, who in turn submit them to commissioners' staff, who process them and submit them to the auditor's office for payment.

He said some of the sheriff's delinquent bills haven't yet been submitted for processing.

But Sheriff Randall Wellington said Thursday that he looked into the matter and found no negligence on the part of his staff, so no one will be disciplined.

Tablack said the main thing now is to solve the problem so it doesn't happen again. That's why he likes the electronic payment option.

Internet plan

Under his plan, utility companies would submit their bills online directly to the auditor's office, which would immediately wire transfer money for payment.

He said the technology is in place in his office, but he'll have to make sure the utility companies, including the Youngstown Water Department, are capable of sending bills electronically.

Before any of that can happen, though, commissioners would have to pass a resolution authorizing the bills to be paid that way.

Commissioners also will look into having the county prosecutor's office contact utility companies and ask them to base all bills on actual usage instead of estimates.

Austintown resident John Paulette, who has long complained about estimated bills, raised the issue with commissioners Thursday. He said estimated bills often are considerably higher than a customer's actual usage.

"There is no doubt that we are getting ripped off," Paulette said.

Ohio law

Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock said commissioners looked into the matter once before and were told that Ohio law allows utilities to submit estimated bills periodically.

But Recorder Ron Gerberry, a former state representative, said he does not believe there is any such provision in the law.

Commissioners said they will meet with the prosecutor's office to look into the matter further.

bjackson@vindy.com




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