Exactly three months to the day hackers crippled Baltimore’s municipal computer networks in a ransomware attack, city leaders say the first batch of water bill mailings are finally going out.
“As we speak, 10,000 bills are being printed and they will be sent out tonight,” Department of Public Works Director Rudy Chow said at a press conference at City Hall this morning.
Chow was quick to warn they’ll be higher than normal, given the three months (or four, for those who didn’t pay their April bill) of built-up charges plus the 10 percent water rate hike then took effect July 1.
“We understand this is going to be somewhat of a sticker shock for our citizens.”
He and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young advertised the city’s new assistance programs, BH20 and BH20 Plus, as remedies to help reduce payments for families within a certain percentage of the federal poverty line, plus six- and 12-month payment plans for those who request them. There’s also a $250 grant for qualifying low-income families who’ve fallen behind on their bills.
And, throwing a bone to all city 200,000 customers that will eventually be receiving water bills over the next month, DPW is waiving late fees on any water and sewer charges until November of this year, Young said.
Customers seeking to immediately pay several months worth of charges will have to wait, however. The online bill-payment portal has been restored after being down since early May, but most accounts haven’t been updated with customers’ full balances just yet.
Asked when that will be fixed, DPW spokesman Kurt Kocher said they’ll be updated with each round of mailings. So, the 10,000 customers whose paper bills went out today should now be able to see how much they owe on the web portal, and others will be updated daily throughout the next several weeks as their bills go out.
Chow was bullish on the water billing system’s prospects for a full post-ransomware recovery: “We are very confident that we have done everything that we can imagine and think about in terms of making sure the system is going to come back normally and working well.”
For those who do encounter issues or want to dispute charges, Chow said the customer service department, reachable at 410-396-5398, is operating under extended hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The city’s Environmental Control Board is also now assisting with independent reviews for customers who appeal their charges.
This story has been updated with additional comment from DPW on the status of online billing.
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