EDITORIAL: Learn lesson from sewer bill snafu

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Well whaddaya know? There was a solution after all.

All it took was a little extra effort by government officials to find it.

Earlier this month, about 150 residents of Rotterdam Sewer District 2 were shocked when they opened their bills to find they’d been charged up to 800% more for sewer service than they expected. Some residential bills that were supposed to be about $230-$250 wound up being $1,200 to $2,000.

For many people on fixed incomes, that’s an unanticipated bill they couldn’t afford.

The problem was the result of a government billing snafu that placed the entire $144,000 cost of capital improvements for the sewer district on the bills of the residents of district Extension 1 instead of spreading it out among the residents of all 15 extensions.

Apparently, the bills were based on an incorrect standard, which was passed from one department and picked up by the assessor’s department.

Nobody caught it, and the incorrect bills went out.

It’s an error that should have been flagged, especially when the bills for some were outrageously high and most other residents of the district weren’t billed at all. It’s inexcusable, with so much technology and oversight, that this could happen. But it happened

You’d think since it was the government’s error, the government would have bent over backwards to correct the bills so that the affected residents wouldn’t have to pay the erroneous overcharges. After all, it wasn’t their fault. Why should they have to pay?

But nooooo. That’s not what happened.

Rotterdam and Schenectady County officials responded to the issue in the exact opposite manner you’d expect your elected representatives to respond ‑ by telling residents they would have to pay the full amount noted on their bill.

To add insult to injury, if residents didn’t pay, or if they paid their bill late, the town would subject them to fines and interest penalties.

Town and county officials had tried everything, they insisted, to correct the error. But there simply was just no way, they said, to reprint the bills, send out corrected notices and send refunds to those who had responded to the threats by paying the full bill.

But lo and behold, there was a solution, had they just looked a little harder before sending out their “Suck it up, Buttercup” message to residents.

As a result of some sleuthing, the whole matter is being resolved. Those that hadn’t paid their bills will get the correct ones, sans penalties and interest. Those that had paid the full incorrect bill will get a refund, minus what they should have been charged.

First, kudos to the person or persons who dug around and found the solution after officials had publicly announced there was none.

Now that they know what caused the problem with the bills, they can fix it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

But the biggest lesson they should learn is how not to handle a problem, and how not to treat the people you’re in government to serve.

We’re glad this ended happily.

But it could have, and should have, been handled much better from the start.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

2 Comments
William Marincic January 30, 2022
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Vince as you know this is a brand new town board in Rotterdam as the old board kicked this can down the road and the new board was caught unaware. From my understanding there was a lot of work done by the new board to get this handled in the county, it just wasn’t the county stepping in it was the new board members going to the county to correct this mistake.

VINCE RIGGI January 28, 2022
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Great op/ed! Correction of errors is written into nys real property tax law for just this reason. How the town of Rotterdam and their assessor were not aware of this fairly simple solution is beyond me. Glad it’s finally resolved.