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Glitch Leads to Higher Utility Bills in Akron, Ohio

Incompatibility between new software and old meters led to higher water and sewer bills for residents of Akron, Ohio. The city had planned to install new smart meters, but the U.S. chip shortage has stalled progress.

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(TNS) — The city of Akron says a computer glitch that backed up the billing process is behind the higher water and sewer bills many got for September.

Residents started receiving and complaining this week of the unusually high public utility bills. In some cases, the monthly bill was double what they paid for July or August.

The culprit is new software that's incompatible with old meters. It's another reason why the city is trying to replace the antiquated system, said Ellen Lander Nischt, press secretary for Mayor Dan Horrigan.

Each month, public service vehicle drives around the city collecting usage data transmitted from the old meters, which were last updated in 2003.

"During a portion of June and July this year, the drive-by reading system was not working because of technical difficulties," Nischt said. "It had to do with new software compatibility with the [old] operating system we were using, and it took some time to discover the issue. This did impact all meter reads for the entire city."

Monthly water usage, which in turn is used to calculate sewer bills, was estimated for July and August.

Residents whose bills normally fluctuate each month paid less than what they were actually using, according to bills shared with the Akron Beacon Journal.

The city said it averaged the last 12 months of usage, with extra weight given to more recent months.

When the software issue went away this month, the bills caught up — hitting some residents with two or more times what they paid the month before.

"In August the system was fixed and back up and running," Nischt said. "We then were able to collect actual reads. In some cases the estimates were below what the actual usage was during those periods. If there was an underestimation, this would result in a unique higher current bill to reconcile previous estimations."

Nischt said the city's 311 call center has received a number of complaints about the issue.

Fluctuations in monthly bills are inherent in Akron's old water meter system. The old meters report usage through a signal to a truck that drives around town collecting the data. But the usage is reported in large units of 100 cubic feet of water, or about 728 gallons. If a customer uses 727 gallons, they're not billed for the usage until the amount rolls into the next month's usage and the meter tallies the unit.

New "smart" water meters are supposed to fix this problem, the city explained after piloting them in 2019. Council later approved the $53 million infrastructure upgrade.

These new meters automatically report usage on the hour and down to the gallon. Along with the usage monitoring ability to detect costly leaks, the new meters are supposed to eliminate the fluctuating monthly bills caused by the old system.

But the same global shortage of computer chips that's delayed the production of cars has also prevented the city from getting and installing any of the new meters for residential customers, Nischt said. The city had budgeted $20 million this year for the installations and equipment purchases.

©2021 www.beaconjournal.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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