City administrator Ray Walden said during the May 18 meeting of the board of aldermen that a proposed letter would go out with the May utility bills showing payment options for catching up on unbilled balances along with a calculation sheet showing the total amount owed.
The utility staff was entering data and planned to have the bills out by the end of this week.
“We need to get these bills out, I get that,” Walden told the board. “People are wanting to get back on a routine.”
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There are also businesses with Paycheck Protection Plan loans that need billing information to qualify for loan forgiveness, he said.
“If your eight weeks is coming due before you get that utility bill, contact me and we will get you the documentation you need,” he said.
Board president Kim Steelman expressed her frustration at the May bills not going out on time as discussed at a meeting in April.
“So that’s the information I relayed to people when I was asked about it, and now we’re halfway through the month and they haven’t been sent,” she said May 18. Steelman complained that aldermen need up-to-date information to answer constituent questions accurately.
“We get calls every day… And if we’re not given up-to-date information, and we’re waiting until the next meeting to get that information, then we’re giving citizens incorrect information,” she said. “I have a lot of frustration right now because I feel I’m essentially lying to people when they call me because what I told them before turned out to be false.”
Walden said he has tried to keep the board apprised.
“It’s a frustrating situation for us,” he said. “I’ve not done daily updates, and maybe I should have. It’s not our intent to have you all responding to questions with inaccurate information.
“If somebody needs an update on their account, we’ve asked that they contact our utility office. We have the current information and that’s our jobs,” he said.
He promised more regular updates.
“I’ve tried to be as transparent as I can on where we’re at,” Walden said. “Have we been perfect on communication? Obviously not. And I get slammed seven ways from Sunday from all angles about communications on this. It’s not my intent for my board to not have the information they want or need for you all to do your jobs.”
He said that night he was making a public commitment to have the May bills out by the end of this week.
See more coverage of the aldermen meeting in the May 26 edition of The Salem News.