W. Richland underbills residents for utility services

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldApril 17, 2013 

Mitch Clardy of West Richland was stunned to open a letter April 15 saying he owed the city $2,961.

He has been receiving free sewer service since buying his home in April 2006, according to the city. The letter said that has come to an end and the back balance would show up on his May utility bill.

Clardy's is one of eight utility accounts that Darrell Stewart, the city's utilities accountant, has found to be underbilled since he was hired about a year ago.

Clardy was given the option of paying the bill next month or making payments spread over the next two years. He is not taking either.

"I've already contacted an attorney. I'd rather pay him the $3,000 than the city. I disagree with the whole fact that somebody or something didn't do its job," Clardy said.

West Richland utility bills list several charges -- water, sewage, garbage and, if applicable, storm water and irrigation.

Clardy's take is he never looks for things like that on the bill.

"The bottom line is, I get a utility bill, look to see what to pay and, unless there's something weird about, just pay it," Clardy said.

Stewart said Clardy did offer to pay what he owes for one year back, but balked at paying anything before that.

West Richland is required by state statute to collect on underbilled accounts, said Jessica Platt, the city's finance director.

By law, billing can only go back 72 months.

"As a part of doing business, billing corrections go both ways -- we've also issued credits," Stewart said. "I wish this hadn't happened, but there isn't any business where it doesn't."

Platt said city staff is reviewing any new accounts and upgrading the accounting software to prevent future mistakes. The existing software is more than a decade old.

West Richland departments, including utilities and building permits, will not be able to process any payments on May 9, 10 and 13 as part of the upgrade. The transition is expected to be complete on May 14.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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