WESTLAKE, Ohio — Westlake residents report they've been left stunned by their most recent monthly bill from the Cleveland Division of Water.
Some Westlake residents said typical water bills of $30 to $50 a month are now more than ten times higher than normal.
Brenda Goodman, a 25-year Westlake resident, said she can't understand why her bill is so high and said she received no help from Cleveland water customer service.
“It was $314 dollars and I was very shocked, and I have it on auto-pay, so it went out of my bank account right away," Goodman said.
"As for customer service, I actually had to call them a few times, and I was getting the run-around, and she basically told me there was nothing she could do for me. It doesn’t seem fair that they can just charge us whatever and not let us know ahead of time, no warning or no letter," she said.
News 5 contacted Cleveland Division of Water headquarters and it confirmed the large "catch-up" bill was because of a reduction in actual meter readings due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
The utility department said it was forced to rely on estimated meter readings for several consecutive months, which then produced the large adjustment bill last month.
But some Westlake residents, like Milan Atanaskovic, aren't buying the COVID-19 excuse, and believe the Cleveland Water Department should have been able to conduct more actual meter readings since many readings in Westlake can be taken from the outside of the home and with the addition of the water department's remote Clear Reads meter system at some Westlake houses.
“The service is horrible, we tried to call the service line, it’s difficult to understand how to get to a human being that you can talk to," said Atanaskovic.
“The technology that they installed alone should keep this type of thing from happening, I think that’s just a crutch. They need to enact some type of a payback system that allows people, especially on fixed incomes to pay these things back over time." Atanaskovic said.
Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough said his city is moving forward with buying water from other city systems, like Avon Lake and Elyria, to break-up Cleveland's water monopoly within the next two years. Clough said it's an issue that's generated a legal battle that has continued for the past 8 years.
“Well I think it’s a shame that Cleveland water has used estimated billing during this long-extended period," Clough said.
“I’ve heard from a number of residents that are shocked by the large bills that they’ve gotten.”
“There is no real reason why Cleveland water could not continue to read the meters in Westlake, and if they didn’t want to read the meters, they could have installed new meters and they still could to this day. Neglectfully not reading the meters, and then sending people a large bill, especially in the economic conditions we are in now, it really makes no sense at all," Clough said.
The Cleveland Division of Water quickly responded to our story and said it will now re-institute manual meter readings where needed in communities like Westlake, and said it will work with customers in setting-up payment plans in dealing with this bill adjustment when possible.
The utility also invited consumers to contact customer service and checkout its billing assistance programs for those in need.