Man doesn't get EBMUD bill for months

March 14, 2013 9:03:07 PM PDT
The transition to a new billing system is being blamed for tens of thousands of East Bay Municipal Utility District, or EBMUD, customers not getting their bills on time. Some people are drowning in debt.

It's one of those bills that is easy to forget, since you only get one every other month. So imagine the surprise when some customers got a bill for almost a year's worth of water.

Manny Bernal of Oakland lives on a small budget and takes pride in keeping up with his bills. After about three months of not getting his water bill, he thought he should check on it.

"Around July I'm starting to wonder, 'Why hasn't my bill come?' I contact EBMUD. They have no answer for me," said Bernal.

Bernal called back a few months later, but still no explanation from EBMUD.

We checked out the machine that stuffs the bill into envelopes before they get mailed. It had been six months and Bernal's bill was not among those sent out. He decided to check his account online, but it showed a zero balance. Bernal began to worry.

"I just knew eventually it would catch up with me. There's just no way they could not charge for water," said Bernal.

More months would pass and there would still be no bill. At this point Bernal was more than concerned.

"I'm pretty upset and telling them, 'I don't want to get stuck with a large bill here. I need you guys to look into this,'" said Bernal.

"We relied previously on a 24-year-old system to manage all of our customer accounts and we had reached a point in time where it was no longer feasible to continue to operate that system," said Nicholas Irias is with EBMUD.

Here's what went wrong -- EBMUD had installed new billing software 18 months ago and the transition has had a few rough spots. The water utility tells 7 On Your Side that 42,000 of its 400,000 total accounts failed to receive bills on time. That's slightly more than 10 percent.

"We thought in working with the new system that the bill had been sent when in fact it had not been released yet," said Carol Nishita from EBMUD.

Making matters worse, Bernal's water meter had become fogged and could not be read.

"The conversion to the new system, it's just taking a little longer to deal with those kinds of situations," said Nishita.

It would be ten months before Bernal would finally receive his bill. There are 835 EBMUD customers have had bills delivered at least 10 months late. Bernal's bill came with an apology along with a balance for $650 dollars payable in less than two weeks. EBMUD will allow him and others who express a hardship to pay off their bill over a year without interest or penalty.

As for Bernal, the utility has also conducted an audit on his past bills and found some excessive charges due to leaky pipes.

"They're talking about reimbursing me $60 some odd dollars for that bill," said Bernal.

EBMUD tells us they still have 1,200 outstanding bills that need to be sent out. Most of those are late by only one or two billing cycles.


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