Bills lost in cyberspace, not the mail

LISBON – Customers of the Columbiana County Sewer District received an early Christmas present of sorts when a disruption in the billing system delayed mailing of the November bills for a month.

Instead, the 2,500 residential customers will receive a combined bill covering November and December when they receive their next mailing sometime next month.

“That’s our plan,” said Troy Graft, an assistant sanitary engineer with the county engineer’s office.

Graft said about two weeks ago they experienced a “massive failure” of the billing system, resulting in the loss of its entire database of customer billing information. This required the engineer’s office staff to re-enter all of the information by hand, such as customer name and address, account number, etc.

“From our paper invoices we have, we’re re-entering the information,” he said, adding the work is expected to take another two weeks to complete.

The county provides sanitary service to the following areas: Calcutta, Russell Heights outside Wellsville, Guilford Lake, the federal prison in Elkton, the county jail, the Robert Bycroft School and Sheltered Workshop, Tobin Center for juveniles, Roseview Acres near Lisbon and Winona.

Graft said their billing system was served by several hard drives, and at some point the first server crashed and the accompanying warning signal was apparently ignored or went unnoticed by the employee in charge. When the back-up hard drive crashed, it brought down the entire system. The employee has since opted to retire.

The reason the engineer’s office issued a news release on the problem is because they were receiving 20 to 25 calls per day from customers wondering why they had not received their November bills. The callers were afraid the bills might have been lost in the Christmas mail.

If the delay has created a hardship with any customers, Graft said they will work with them, and no late fees will be assessed.