Utility Bills

Marty Anderson stood before the board of aldermen during their May 3 open session and asked about inconsistencies with his utility bills over the past few months and the city’s slow response to address the problem.

“I’m not angry, I just want answers,” Anderson says.

Anderson’s story brought before the board started in December, when he received a $6,400 credit on his utility account.

“I didn’t know what it was for or why it was there,” said Anderson. Not knowing what to do, Anderson didn’t pay a bill that month because, according to the error on his account, he was already $6,400 ahead.

However that’s not where Anderson’s headache ended. A month later, Anderson’s utility account showed he owed around $1,500. All of this was especially confusing to Anderson since, according to him, his past bills average closer to $130 a month.

He contacted the city and was assured that someone would call him and explain. So he paid $500 toward his bill in January. Anderson also paid $500 toward his bill in February and $500 more in March, still without an explanation or a corrected bill.

According to Anderson, he spoke to one of his aldermen, West Ward Alderman Greg Parker.

“I explained the issues that I was having, and I was trying to work through the chain of command and then was still not getting a phone call or any arrangement to sit down and explain to me the bill,” said Anderson. So, Anderson kept on paying, this time $360 toward his bill in April.

That put Anderson having paid a total of $1,860 toward months that he did not receive accurate bills – December, January, February, March and April. So, over the course of five months, Anderson says he paid somewhere around three times what he most likely would have owed had he received an accurate bill.

“I don’t know why I’m just blindly paying the bill, but I’m doing so because I think it’s the right thing to do,” Anderson told the board. He says he continued to contact the utility office and was assured that someone would contact him. But no answers or explanations came. So in late April, he filled out a form to speak to the Board of Aldermen during the meetings hearings of persons portion of the agenda.

Anderson said he spoke to Director of Public Works Mark Nash in the week prior to the Board of Aldermen meeting.

“He was really kind and explained to me the issue with the computer,” he said referencing the computer program that utilizes the new AMI system. Apparently, the system had glitched in a way that, according to Nash, was unique to Anderson’s account.

“We’ve not seen that problem anywhere else,” said Nash.

Anderson said that he asked Nash if someone could sit down with him to explain his bill.

“He assured me that somebody would get back with me,” said Anderson. But up until the time of the May 3 meeting, Anderson said, “someone has yet to get back with me.

“As a taxpayer, I’m just simply wanting some customer service, and I can’t get anybody to contact me and simply explain to me why my bill is what it is.”

East Ward Alderwoman Kim Steelman, who serves as the board chair, was the only one to respond in open session to Anderson’s concerns.

“First of all, I’m sorry that that has happened and that you haven’t gotten any help yet. That’s extremely frustrating,” she said before addressing Nash and Jennifer Cochran, who runs the utilities office. “Can we please make sure to contact him first thing in the morning (Tuesday) and get this resolved?” she asked.

Nash and Cochran nodded their agreement.

“I’m easy to get a hold of,” said Anderson.

Anderson told The Salem News that the City of Salem contacted him May 4 and set up an appointment to meet with him May 5. After that meeting, Anderson contacted The Salem News and said that he was satisfied with the explanations regarding his bill.

“The meeting only took about 10 minutes,” said Anderson. Anderson reiterated to The Salem News that it wasn’t so much the problems with his bill that frustrated him, but the poor service he had received from the City of Salem over the past five months and how difficult it was to get answers.