By Lee Murray
The July water bill Monsignor John Zuraw received for St. Rose Catholic Church on State Street was, in a word, hellacious.
“We must have used $93,000 in holy water,” he told the Sunday congregation, poking fun at the errant bill.
There was not a vast increase in baptisms, nor an excessive increase in the amount of tea consumed in the rectory.
Instead, St. Rose was just one of the many water customers in the city to experience an erroneous reading due to what city officials said was a “software error” on newly installed wireless meters.
Residents, business owners, and clergymen descended on the city’s water department seeking an explanation.
“It’s growing pains,” said Jerry Lambert, the city’s director of public services. Lambert explained that the city is replacing manual-read meters with automatic readers, and the errors are a result of software problems during the changeover.
Tri-Changes, a hair salon across State Street from St. Rose, received a bill of $11,681.
“We were shocked,” said Sherry Lakos-Johnson, salon owner. “I knew it was wrong, there’s no way it could be 11-grand.”
Lakos-Johnson went down to the water department offices on West Main Street.
“There was an old man in front of me, and his bill was $200,” Lakos-Johnson said. “They told him it was an actual reading and not an estimate, but I don’t know.”
The water department looked at Tri-Changes’ actual reading and found there was indeed an error. They had, in fact, over- estimated on the last billing cycle.
“I actually owed zero,” Lakos-Johnson said. “Nothing,”
The plan is to replace all 5,600 meters in the city with the new type, which Lambert said will make meter reading easier and billing simpler. The city has already installed 2,000.
The old meters use a different set of codes to the new system, Lambert said. A mistake when entering codes, such as including an additional digit or not entering the previous meter reading correctly, will put out an incorrect reading and a very wrong billing amount.
“We know it’s a glitch,” said Lambert, adding that most residents who have come in to the department just wanted to get their bill fixed.
“The majority of people have been understanding,” Lambert said. “We do have the correct readings here, so we can recalculate it for them.”
Monsignor Zuraw said that he brought up the water-meter problem before mass because he was concerned that elderly residents may not think to check the accuracy of the bill before paying.
“If they immediately pay a high bill,” Monsignor Zuraw said, “they may be unable to pay for medicines or food because they are afraid their water will be cut off.”
Lambert said that the billing information should be “100 percent correct” by the next billing cycle in September.
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