South Orange residents are complaining about what they say are unfair interest charges and late fees on water bills from the East Orange Water Commission.
East Orange Water Commission charges 8% interest up to a balance of $1,500. Bills are due in 30 days; a $5 late fee is assigned for payments received after 30 days.
However, customers are asserting that they are being charged interest and late fees even when they send in their bills in a timely manner. A number of customers shared stories or letters of complaint with The Village Green, detailing the charges as well as their experience with poor customer service when they called to have the charges explained or reversed. One customer noted that he sent payment via PNC online banking four days before the payment was due; however, his check was canceled 12 days later. He was charged a $17.72 interest fee on his next bill.
Another customer said her family was charged a late fee and interest for a bill they paid on time. She said that her family was able to finally reverse the charges, after calling EOWC repeatedly.
South Orange Trustee Howard Levison said he is trying to work with EOWC to correct the issue. Levison and other South Orange officials are scheduled to meet with EOWC leaders on Friday, January 23. Billing is on the agenda, said Levison.
“We have been working with EOWC on some of the billing issues,” said Levison in a phone call last week. Levison said that South Orange is now scheduling monthly meetings with EOWC — instead of quarterly — to talk about billing and capital issues.
“Part of it is understanding the process flow,” said Levison. “How many times a week do they go to the post office box? Is it a lock box? … We’re going to ask them to improve their process.” One solution, said Levison, may be to ultimately have all customers send payments to South Orange, but, he noted, “that puts a burden on our tax collector.”
In the meantime, Levison advises: “The most effective ways of making sure one does not incur these charges is to pay immediately and use either the Village’s Tax Office (mailing to Tax Collector, 76 South Orange Ave. rather than the East Orange PO Box 580 or at the Tax Office window) or online by credit card or bank account debit – an $8/year extra but guarantees an immediate documented posting.” (See details on payment methods below.)
(Notably, New Jersey American Water, which serves Maplewood, charges no fee for online payment. For comparison, The Village Green asked NJAW spokesman Richard Barnes about NJAW’s policy on late payments. Barnes replied: “Essentially customers have 15 days to pay their bill. We typically do not charge late fees for customers…. [O]ur Rate Tariff, which is approved by the Board of Public Utilities and can be found here. If a customer’s service is discontinued, there is a $28 reconnection fee.”)
Christopher Coke, current Acting Interim Executive Director of EOWC, has not yet returned a call made by The Village Green last week. Coke is also the Director of Public Works for the City or East Orange. The EOWC has faced much turmoil in recent years with its former Director and Assistant Director being criminally charged for lying about levels of a chemical solvent in EOWC drinking water (the Director, Harry Mansmann, has since died; Assistant Director William Mowell admitted guilt and was sentenced last year). Last summer, the Mayor of East Orange suspended four EOWC commissioners for mismanagement; two were reinstated by the city council but their terms have since expired.
Although South Orange has approved a 30-year contract to purchase water from New Jersey American Water beginning in January 2017, the Township has not yet issued a Request for Proposals to bid an operation and management contract for its water system, which would include meter reading and billing. “Current thinking is that will go into effect sometime (months) prior to Jan. 2017 when the EOWC contact expires,” wrote Levison.
Methods for South Orange residents to pay their EOWC bill:
Pay in person at the Village Hall Payment Window:
(8:30 am – 4:20 pm M-F)
76 South Orange Avenue
South Orange, NJ 07079
Pay by Mail:
South Orange Village Water Services
Customer Service Center
76 South Orange Avenue
South Orange, NJ 07079
go to https://billq.cashcyclesolutions.com/EBPP/Paydirect.aspx?BillerName=EOWC
• Personal checking account or
• VISA or Mastercard credit or debit card, and Discover card
There is a $2.00 Convenience Fee for this service.