County goofs on water shut-off

Computer error sends notices to 1,047 households

August 06, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

Carleen Grossman was startled this week to read a postcard from Howard County government saying the water would be turned off Friday to the Ellicott City home she shares with her husband, Robert. The card wrongly said the Grossmans had not paid their bill, even though they had not received one for the current period.

The Grossmans, it turns out, were not alone.

A computer glitch caused 1,047 county households to mistakenly receive turn-off notices this week, said Sharon Greisz, county finance director. Greisz's staff has been fielding hundreds of calls since Monday, she said.

"The program was run wrong. My staff should have caught it. We were wrong," Greisz said, adding that the county will call each person who wrongly received the postcard.

The error was the result of a computer program that chose the wrong list of water customers to receive warnings, Greisz said. Typically, customers receive several notices before their water is turned off, she said, including a 30-day penalty notice, a postcard and a home visit by a county worker who hangs a warning on a home's front door.

Greisz said the county typically turns off water to about 63 homes each month.

Robert Grossman, 65, an engineer, said his wife thought she had forgotten to pay the water bill and spent a long time searching through canceled checks before he called the county. Even then, the couple worried that if they left the house, they might come home to find a dry water tap.

Said Grossman: "This kind of upset our family."

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