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Customers say utility billing concerns loom in Salem more than a year after meter upgrade project

Many say their questions about high bills are going unanswered
Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 3:02 AM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - For more than a year, people living in Salem Missouri say they have been dealing with utility billing issues.

Many tell us they are getting water and electric bills months at a time and for hundreds of dollars more that what they normally pay.

The city spent about $1.5 million to replace thousands of water and electric meters. But they say the upgrade didn’t go as planned.

People in Salem say they have yet to get answers as to when the billing issues will be fixed.

“We’ve been waiting a year in the dark just getting bigger and bigger bills with this past due amounts that we’re told not to worry about. But we’re going to worry about them,” says Bethany Wilkinson.

Many customers, like Wilkinson, say they thought the problems with the electric and water meter upgrades would have been resolved by now.

“This is not a cell phone or cable. This is electric and water. This is a necessity. It’s not just something that we want or we can refuse to pay. We have to have these utilities,” she said.

Customers received letters about the upgrade back in October of 2019. They say they were told that the transition would take a few months, until about January 2020.

A year later meters are still having to be read manually. Many customers believe this is why their bills are inaccurate.

Wilkinson says she owes more than $1500 for the past two months.

“It’s like they have us over a barrel. We don’t have a choice but to pay. Then we don’t get any explanation about where all this past due amount is coming from,” she explained.

We attended a city utility workshop to try to get answers from city officials.

We asked why more information about the upgrade process and billing issues hasn’t been made available.

Alderman Kevin James said, “I would struggle with that question. We have provided many opportunities for news releases, information on Facebook as well as the phones have been open during the height of COVID.

He also provided an explanation as to why 200 meters still have yet to be installed, delaying completion of the upgrade.

“There’s been multiple delays in meters because of COVID. Some of them are stuck in a warehouse in New Jersey, batteries in China, literally that’s part of the delays from mid March until today,” he said. “The soft wares haven’t talked. If you go out and research the different soft wares we use you’ll see this throughout facilities in the US.

We said, “Sure that makes sense. However the implementation of the new meters and software was to occur at the end of 2019 and resolved by January 2020. The pandemic didn’t really didn’t start picking up here until March a few months after. Here we are again. My question, a year later, they’re still no further along in receiving the proper billing that they were promised, they say a year ago...”

We were interrupted before completing out question.

James said, “I understand the question. There’s more complexity and granularity to the answer. It’s a very dynamic situation. COVID has, you know that, you report on it every day I bet. So, we have been challenged on all fronts, let alone how we meet together. If there’s and issue we’ve tried to address it. I’ve met with people myself multiple times. Sometimes the same people over and over. I don’t like the situation. I am beyond frustrated. Okay. I’m a citizen. Several of these people are a citizen. Not everybody in here is a citizen, right, in Salem. How do you deal with a situation when it’s out of your control?”

People drawing power and water from the city say their patience for an explanation and solutions is running thin.

“We just want somebody to tell us why we’re here and how we get out of it. If they could just break that down for us I think everybody would just calm down.”We don’t know what is going on with anything, COVID, riots, our president, our utilities. It’s the last thing we need,” said Wilkinson.

Salem City Administrator, Ray Walden says the officials are working on a timeline to complete the upgrade project though no specific date of when that information would be released was given.

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