April 24, 2014

Elyria
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Water department without hot water after gas is shut off

LORAIN — There wasn’t any hot water at the Lorain Water Distribution Department building on Kansas Avenue on Monday.

That’s because Columbia Gas had shut off gas service to the building because of unpaid late fees.

“We don’t just sit down and write a check like you do at home,” said Ron Mantini, city auditor. “Our policy, with respect to late fees, (is) that if it’s our fault we’ll pay them, but if it’s a timing issue for check runs, we tend to not pay those. To help alleviate that timing issue, starting in October … we pay the bills once a week instead of twice a month.”

A Columbia Gas worker, who identified himself only by his work ID number of 4908, said the last time the gas bill for the building was paid in full was November.

Mantini said he had no idea why late fees were assessed, but said it’s something he intends to research when the city employee responsible returns from vacation.

Ray Frank, spokesman for Columbia Gas, said the company’s policy is not to comment about individual accounts but that cities aren’t exempt from policies that apply to others.

“Municipalities receive bills like all other customers. If they are late, late fees are incurred,” he said.

The cost to reconnect the gas for the Kansas Avenue building was $336.47, which includes a $50 reconnect fee, according to Columbia Gas. That should be done by this morning, according to a Columbia Gas official.

Service Director Robert Gilchrist said the shut-off was an oversight, nothing more.

“It’s something that slipped through the cracks,” Gilchrist said. “That’s why it was shut off. We talked to Columbia Gas, and they apologized because they’re not in the habit of cutting off municipalities.”

The 15 to 20 employees at the building have been without hot water while the gas is off. The building will be empty within a matter of weeks when employees will move to a wastewater treatment plant building on the city’s west side.

Mantini agreed with Gilchrist, saying the shut-off wasn’t symptomatic of larger problems.
“We always pay our bills,” Mantini said. “We don’t have any problem paying the bills for our utilities.”

Contact Alicia Castelli at 329-7144 or acastelli@chroniclet.com.