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Software issue delays West Chicago water bills

Published: Thursday, July 31, 2014 4:23 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, July 31, 2014 4:30 p.m. CDT

WEST CHICAGO – A limitation in the software used by new water meters in West Chicago has forced some residents to go without receiving a water bill for as long as nearly a year, as city staff works to process the bills manually.

The software does not allow the city to bill for specified periods of time and instead requires the bills to include any charges up until the day they are actually processed, City Administrator Michael Guttman said. In order to avoid giving unusually large bills to residents after this issue was discovered, staff members began manually billing residents in summer 2013, causing delays.

"Right now we know what everybody's water usage is," West Chicago Mayor Ruben Pineda said. "What we're trying not to do is send out a large bill." 

The backlog of what's owed by residents is being broken into four-month bills that will be sent out every two months until everyone is caught up with their payments to the city, Guttman said.

Once that happens, the limitation will no longer be an issue because bills will be able to be processed by the software at the end of each billing cycle, he said.

The limitation was not known by the city before meter installations began in late 2011, Guttman said. The problem started affecting residents at different times based on when they received the new meters, which work properly themselves and collect all the data needed for the bills, he said.

But with new software, there is a possibility of things going wrong, Pineda said.

West Chicago has not sought additional manpower to help with this process in an effort to avoid transferring those costs to customers, Guttman said.

Although more than $1 million is owed to West Chicago, he said this has not negatively impacted the city's finances.

West Chicago has been able to pull needed funds from savings for a new water tower that is expected to begin construction in 2016. The city anticipates having a sizable portion of what is owed in water payments by then in order to make up for what has been taken from that project, Guttman said.

Half of the utility districts in West Chicago have received at least one four-month bill, but the only water users who are entirely caught up with their bills are those who have left the city and needed to pay what they owed before they moved, he said.

Residents are welcome to pay what they believe they owe each billing cycle based on what they have paid in the past, and there are a number of customers who have chosen to do that, Guttman said.

Although he is not sure when the city will be completely caught up with the billing process, city staff is working hard to get to that point.

"We're aggressively working on them right now," he said.

Intern Hannah Prokop contributed to this report.

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