Baltimore’s public works department is once again issuing water bills to its 400,000 customers in the city and Baltimore County, three months after a ransomware attack shut down city computer systems.
The restoration of the billing system is a landmark in the recovery from the attack, which involved hackers breaking into the computer network, locking up files and demanding a ransom. The city refused to pay and expects to spend $10 million getting the network back online.
It’s not clear why water billing was among the last major systems to come back online. Officials have said only that they wanted to carefully check everything before sending out bills again.
Now that the system is back, here’s what to expect.
When will I get my bill?
Public Works Director Rudy Chow said that the first 10,000 bills printed and mailed Wednesday. By Friday morning, the city expected to have mailed 20,000. The department issues bills on a rolling basis each workday, so some customers will get their bills in the mail this week, while others will wait until Sept. 10. In every case, Chow said, the bills will cover the last four months of water, sewer and stormwater charges.
How big is my bill going to be?
The public works department says a typical household’s monthly bill is $100, so the bills going out now should be around $400. The bills will be broken into two sections, the first reflecting water and sewer rates in effect until June 30 and a second reflecting usage after an price increase of about 9% that went into effect July 1.
Officials say water meters continued to collect usage data and send it to the public works department, so they’re confident bills will be correct. Nevertheless, the water department continues to face complaints that it generates inaccurate bills. On Aug. 1, the department announced that it was partnering with the city’s Environmental Control Board to review complaints.
How can I pay my bill?
Online, over the phone at 877-729-6269, or by mailing a check. You can also pay in person downtown at the Abel Wolman Municipal Building on North Holliday Street. Starting Monday, the building will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday. Customer service staff will also be available.
What if I can’t afford my bill?
Chow acknowledged that customers might have some “sticker shock." The department won’t begin assessing late fees until Nov. 1 and customers can enroll in payment plans if they need to. The plans allow you to either pay off half your outstanding bill and clear the rest in 12 monthly installments, or put nothing down and pay over six months. Chow also encouraged customers to see whether they’re eligible for a new discount program for low-income families.
I live in Baltimore County. How does this affect me?
Baltimore’s public works department also manages water service in Baltimore County, and customers there have also not been getting bills because of the ransomware. County customers get their bills once a quarter, rather than every month, and Chow said the bills now starting to go out will cover May, June and July.