Water department reports progress in customer service, thousands of deliquent accounts remain

Some 40 million dollars have not been collected

CLEVELAND - The Cleveland Division of Water has generated hundreds of complaints sent to the NewsChannel5 Troubleshooter Team in the past three years. However, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson reported progress in customer service has been made in the past several months.

Cleveland water department leaders called it a "turnaround effort," and revealed improvements in the water department call center, its customer care, and collections department.

The report issued to the Cleveland City Council Public Utilities Committee outlined that customer service call wait times have dropped from an average of 45 minutes in 2010, to an average of just 30 seconds in July of 2011.

However, the collection of delinquent accounts still needs significant improvement -- more than 58,000 accounts are behind by six months or more.

"People owe money, and they owe money to this system," said Mayor Frank Jackson. "We expect to be paid, we're going to notify by phone, in their next bill, and through advertising."

During the presentation, Cleveland Councilman Michael Polensek commented that it was unfair to ask residents to accept an 85 percent rate hike when so many bills have not been collected.

Issues at the Cleveland Division of Water are nothing new, 5 On Your Side has documented problems at the Cleveland water department since 2008.

Thousands of consumer complaints have flooded water department customer service representatives over the past year, after the water department reported 60,000 water bills were held in limbo and more than 16,000 water meters were reported broken or inaccurate last summer.

The Cleveland City Council Public Utilities Committee held a series of hearings in order to help improve customer service. Wednesday's meeting will act as a progress report.

"We are working diligently with Mayor Jackson and his directors to turn around customer service," said Utilities Committee Chairman Kevin Kelley. "We need to address the issues raised by our residential and business customers."

NewsChannel5 has received four dozen consumer complaints about the Cleveland Division of Water since last November.

The Cleveland City Council Utilities Committee had been meeting since March of 2010, working to get the water department to meet a specific set of customer service benchmarks -- benchmarks water department leaders said are being met.

Since July 2010, the Cleveland Division of Water reported in May, customer service wait times have been reduced from 45 minutes to an average of two minutes per phone call. The number of broken water meters have been reduced to less than 2,300 and the number of missing or pending water bills have been reduced to just 493, as of April 15.

"We're going to look at every dollar spent in the Cleveland Division of Water, we're going to look at every aspect of the operation," Kelley said.

5 On Your Side is committed to keeping you updated on progress at the Cleveland Division of Water, a utility that serves 1.5 million consumers in 70 Northeast Ohio communities.

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