News Column

Hamilton utility bills go missing for several residents

June 2, 2014

By Vivienne Machi, Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio

June 02--HAMILTON -- Issues with a new software program affected some Hamilton utility customers, causing them to not receive utility bills for two months.

Some residents did not receive bills after the Hamilton Department of Utilities said it switched billing systems in mid-January, resulting in a panic from residents that their services may be shut off.

"The meters were being read, the bills were being calculated, but just at the end of printing, there were still a handful of problems," Utilities Director Doug Childs said. "With any new software, you've got some bugs to work out."

It took the city about two months to fix the issue, according to Childs. "Unfortunately, it was the last group, or listing, of bills, and were the same customers in each group. So that's why there were the same bills not being sent out in two months," he said.

Neighborhoods that were impacted once by the printing issues include Taft Place, Highland Park, Governors Hill, Gunn Eden, Twinbrook, Lindenwald and Tylersville Road, according to City Director of Energy Management Tim Bigler. Neighborhoods impacted twice included Sanders, Random Hills and Fairways of Twin Run, Bigler said.

The Utilities Department transitioned from a Customer Information System that was more than 20 years old on Jan. 21, according to a report obtained by the Journal-News. The department experienced several bumps in the transition, including issues with customers on budget billing, or paying a fixed amount per month, the report states. Most of those issues have been resolved, the report states.

However, general billing issues -- including untimely bills, bills not received, or bills not having been generated -- are still being addressed, according to the department's report.

The report identified several reasons why the bills would not be sent out to customers, including incorrect addresses, incorrectly inserted bills, incorrectly sprayed postal codes or programming on the postal spray, or lack of printing entirely.

One reason the bills weren't printing was due to a lack of server space, the report read. Bill print files are extremely large, causing the last bills in a daily run to not be generated.

"The city staff has gotten much better at identifying issues as they arise as early as possible," Bigler said.

Childs assured that no customers would have their utilities shut off as a result of the delayed bills, and that the city is working individually with customers who have experienced these issues.

"The city has almost 30,000 utility bills moving to a new system. We had our issues and we tried to address them as soon as we could," Childs said. He estimates that "50 or 60" customers were affected.

"We're not shutting people off because they didn't receive a bill for two months," he said. "A lot of people called up and still made the payments. We have some extraordinarily conscientious customers."


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Source: Hamilton Journal News (OH)

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