Utility Bills

City of Salem electric bills were not mailed at the end of March or the first few days of April, city administrator Ray Walden told The Salem News Thursday.

The Salem News received several phone calls from city utility customers this week complaining that they had not received utility bills. As a result, The Salem News attempted to call Walden and city public works director Mark Nash on Wednesday, but they did not immediately return the phone calls.

The Salem News did reach Walden by phone Thursday and asked when bills will be sent out and what the billing cycle will be.

"The aldermen requested a 30-day billing cycle, so that's what we will be doing," he said. "We'll be working on that next week."

Walden also said that the due date for payment of those bills will be determined by the date they are actually sent out. He was not specific on when the bills – which will apparently be for 30 days and span Dec. 11, 2020 through part of January 2021 – will be mailed to customers.

Walden added that as soon as the information on billing is available, he will release that to The Salem News.

City of Salem utility bills received in February and early March were for service from Oct. 28 to Dec. 10, which is for 44 days instead of the normal 30 days.

Utility billing has been running months behind, delayed and inconsistent since November of 2019, when the city started having issues with new meters and the billing system. Aldermen approved the purchase of new, computerized water and electric meter monitoring system in March 2019 from NexGrid for $1.34 million, including system installation.

Problems have persisted since.

Walden addressed ongoing utility billing problems during the March 15 regular meeting of the board of aldermen.

The board expressed citizen concerns about the six-week utility billing cycle of the last bill, which was not announced to the public beforehand.

“With respect to the billing cycle, I’ve gotten several comments, I know other board members have gotten comments,” said board chairman Kevin James. “We have concerns with the way it was presented, and our perspective is that we didn’t really discuss it. It came up at utility committee meetings and that was just a suggestion of potentials.”

Walden responded with, “Okay, we followed what we understood the direction the board wanted us to go. If that’s not the case, or if you want a different billing cycle, let us know.”

James went on to address the fact that the increase happened without providing notice to the public.

“We thought, that at meetings it had been mentioned, and it was not our intention to do something that hadn’t been publicly mentioned,” said Walden. “We’re working on communications, and if we need to communicate that differently, and you want a different process, we’re glad to do that.”

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.