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Arnold billing frustration boils over

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 1:27 a.m.

Arnold residents and landlords jammed council chambers on Tuesday to complain about an array of problems associated with the city's new billing system for sewage and garbage fees.

Many of the complaints dealt with the overbilling of about 1,600 residences for two months' worth of minimum sewage and garbage fees, which would total an overage of $112.

Richard Lear, president of Pennsylvania Municipal Services Co., the Oakmont-based company hired in January to oversee the city's billing, apologized for the problems and said residents who overpaid would be credited on their next quarterly bill, which should be sent out in early December.

Lear said the problems originated with changing the way fees were billed midway through the year. The city had been billing residents monthly, but that process was complicated by the fact that the water usage was calculated on a quarterly basis. In July, Arnold changed to quarterly billing.

“Once we get into a quarterly routine, it will get better,” Lear said. “I'm not perfect and neither is our company. But you're going to get my best efforts.”

Many residents were not appeased.

Resident Guy Tocco said he still hasn't received confirmation of credit for a $5 overpayment from several months ago. “How am I going to trust you with a credit of $112?”

Others said they'd prefer a refund now rather than waiting for the company to credit their bills several months later. Mayor Larry Milito said city officials would discuss that and several other issues with PAMS to work out the best system.

Residents also said they received conflicting reports on whether they should pay the overage or would risk late fees for not paying the bill in full. Lear said no fees would be charged on bills from the most recent quarter; anyone who has not yet paid the bill should subtract the overage and pay the difference.

Several residents complained about rude service from PAMS employees, for which Lear also apologized.

“This would go a lot smoother if we felt you were listening,” said Cassandra Houser.

Others said they had problems with how the fees were assessed.

Katherine Hoover felt the minimum water usage of 750 cubic feet, or about 5,600 gallons, was too low. She said she lives alone and still pays more than the $102 quarterly fee for minimum usage.

Residents pay an additional $6.22 per 100 cubic feet over the minimum, which Scip Alcibiade felt was too much. He and other residents said they felt New Kensington residents paid less money for a higher minimum usage.

“We were assured we wouldn't be paying more,” Dante Moretti said. “With this many people having complaints, something is wrong.”

Arnold Engineer Mark Gera said the rates reflect the actual cost for sewage treatment that Arnold pays to New Kensington. He said Arnold is not making any additional money under the new billing system.

Previously, all residences paid a flat fee of $800 per year for sewage and garbage service combined. Milito said the system was changed to make it more equitable for older and smaller households that don't use as much water.

Milito requested patience.

“In the long run, when this balances out, it will be better,” he said. “The system has to be worked out.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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