Hamilton utility customers surprised by high bills

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Hamilton utility customers surprised by high bills

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As happens most years, high July and August temperatures, plus increased lawn-watering, caused some Hamilton residents’ utility bills to at least double — and in some cases, increase by three or four times. STAFF FILE PHOTO

When Hamilton residents opened their utility bills the past two months, many thought there must be some mistake because the dollar amounts were so much higher than earlier this summer.

Unfortunately for their checkbooks, there was no mistake, according to the city.

Instead, as happens most years, high July and August temperatures, plus increased lawn-watering, caused some residents’ bills to at least double — and in some cases, increase by three or four times.

“This is fairly typical for our utility, and probably most residential-customer load in this area,” said Nathan Perry, Hamilton’s utility business manager.

For this year, and ahead of the winter heating season, the city again has a suggestion: To avoid drastic spikes in bills, customers can arrange for budget billing, which levels out utility bills throughout the year, based on each customer’s previous energy use in previous years.

The city also has a way customers can lower their sewer bills during the summer.

To arrange for budget billing or lower sewer bills, Hamilton customers can call customer service at 513-785-7100 and speak with a customer-service representative.

“We’ve been reaching out to customers who have been concerned, and directing them to our Facebook page it they would like us to reach out to them,” Perry said. “We’ve been … walking through their specific usage, and helping them understand what’s going on there.”

Here’s what happens, according to Perry: “In May, June, that usage is typically around 15 million kilowatt-hours, and by July and August, over every year over the five years, that doubles to close to 30- or even above, 30 million kilowatt-hours.”

So usage, and therefore bills, typically are half during May and June compared against July and August, because of air-conditioning consumption.

“The bills that just have been coming out in September are for August usage. And those in August were for July,” Perry said.

“As we’re looking at accounts, we’re seeing water and electric usage is up, for some customers, 3 or 4 times what they were using in May, June, but mostly it’s a double increase.

Some people expressed outrage online, but one man, who started a community conversation on Facebook and at first was certain the city had made a mistake, and wanted to urge the city to correct it, asked not to be quoted after he was told the city’s explanation.

There was no issue with when or how utility meters were checked, Perry said.

“We’ve taken a look at customers who have called and contacted us, and we’re always happy to walk through bills with customers, to help them understand,” he said.

The city in the spring and early summer posted items online and put messages in customers’ bills to warn them about the spikes, “because we see this every year.”

How can customers lower their summer sewer bills? They can ask for a discount based on how much they water their lawns in the summer. City employees can look at their increased water usage during the summer with the assumption that most of that goes toward lawn-watering. And because sewer rates are based on water usage, they can get credit for the amount of water that is assumed to be soaking into their yards, rather than going into the sewer system.

Here’s another way only Hamilton residents and businesses can lower electric rates: Use the city’s Efficiency Smart program, which helps connect them with high-efficiency lighting and appliances, or provide rebates for purchases of them.

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