Water billing snafu leaves some business owners boiling

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    Warwick - Craig Cianci has owned the Warwick Laundry Center at Mitchell Corners for eight years. In those years, he has only had to increase his prices three times, at a quarter a pop. Recently, he raised his price for a large washer 50 cents, charging $5.25 for each use. That's because Cianci just found out his water bill increased nine months ago-and he's got to pay the difference going back three billing cycles. Several business owners in the Village of Warwick are upset about their higher water rate - and the delay in letting them know about it. A computer glitch billed their water use at a lower residential rate and now the village must collect the difference. "I found out about this (rates going up) about a month ago," said Cianci. "I called the mayor, who said we have to pay the higher rate back to June." This is quite a hardship to Cianci, who estimates he will owe an additional $3,000 to $4,000 just to make up the difference in the three billing cycles. He hasn't received the corrected bill yet, although he said he is expecting it any day. Cianci pays an average of about $6,000 each quarter for water use. When he did hear about the increase, he immediately increased his prices at the Laundromat. But he said he can't back bill all of his customers for using his equipment. "There should be a better way of notifying us," Cianci said. "When the village flushes the fire hydrants, they let us know in advance. If they can notify you for that, why not a rate increase?" Rates are set by the village at its annual reorganization meeting each April. Notices are not sent to system users. Instead, they find out about any changes either by being at a meeting, watching it on television, or reading about it in the newspaper. Last year the Village of Warwick increased its commercial water fees and also implemented new computer software. Because of a data input error by the company that installed the software, the commercial accounts were not charged the increase. As a result, commercial accounts were undercharged, according to Mayor Michael Newhard. Does the village have any recourse with the computer company that made the mistake? "A letter was sent to them," Newhard said. "It is in the lawyer's hands. The village spent at least a week working on this problem. It has been very frustrating. It hasn't been smooth sailing." Now, the village is in the process of rebilling those commercial accounts and some, like Cianci, are going to feel it hard. "The village's budget and the cost of water plant operations are dependent on these fees," said Newhard. "The fee increase in fiscal year 2004 was implemented to help offset the increased costs of operation and maintenance of our water plant and wells. The village makes no money on this. We are not making a profit." But Cianci sees it differently. "This is hitting people. Washing your clothes is a necessity, not a luxury, like eating out or washing your car," Cianci said. "Many lower income people who don't have washing machines use the Laundromat. Why not increase residential rates too? Why have the commercial businesses and the people who use them take the brunt of it?" Newhard and the Village Board will extend the payment deadline for the commercial accounts until May 1 without penalty, but Cianci said that doesn't really help him. He's got to come up with a large chunk of money to pay the increase. Newhard estimated this underbilling totals about $60,000 due to the village. Anyone who needs special arrangements, should call Village Hall, he added. Not all commercial accounts are significantly affected, but some are-like Laundromats, the car wash and restaurants. Several of the bigger water users are planning to attend the next village board meeting, which happens to be the reorganization meeting. "A few of us got together at the car wash to talk about this," Cianci said. "We plan to show up at the April 4 meeting to discuss this. I don't expect to get anything but we have to try. It's worth a shot."