Four years later, water billing still a problem in West Chicago

Updated 4/19/2018 4:26 PM

Nearly four years after West Chicago revealed that new water meter reading equipment was causing a billing headache, hundreds of customers still are being adversely affected.

An estimated 19 percent of the city's roughly 6,500 water customers haven't received a bill since around October 2016, officials say, and it will take at least two more years for their billing to return to normal.

"We're working on our final billing district," City Administrator Michael Guttman said Thursday. "This will be over when the final billing district returns to regular billing."

Water customers in five other districts are either back to normal billing cycles or paying for four months of water use every 2½ months to get caught up on what they owe the city.

The billing problems began in October 2011 when the city began converting from water meters that were read manually to equipment that was supposed to send data electronically.

The new water meter reading equipment accurately collected all the information related to water use and billing, but as many as 40 percent of the meters were unable to transmit that information to the city's servers because of a hardware failure. Guttman said "meter interface units" that failed had to be replaced by the vendor at no charge to the city.

At the same time, officials discovered there was a limitation in the software that prevented the city from modifying bills to make up for missed payments. As a result, the water bills had to be compiled manually until 2016.

"All that combined gets us to where we are today," Guttman said.

The good news, Guttman said, is the city is making progress in correcting the problem. He said roughly 51 percent of residents "are caught up and getting bills every two months."

Some residents who haven't received a bill since fall 2016 are putting money in their accounts in anticipation of future bills, he said.

When regular billing resumes for those residents, he said, they'll pay for four months of water every two months until they catch up.

The only residents who will be required to pay the full amount they owe at one time are those who are moving.

Guttman said the billing problems also have forced the city to delay plans to build a water tower. Officials had hoped to start the $6 million to $7 million project this year, but the funding problems have pushed that date back to 2021.

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