A computer problem is keeping the city of Belleville from mailing sewer bills to local residents or processing automatic debit payments, according to the city’s public relations specialist.
City Treasurer Sarah Biermann, who handles sewer billing and payments, declined to comment, referring calls to PR and Communications Manager Kathy Kaiser. The BND asked Kaiser to make Biermann and Information Technology Director Scott Markovich available to answer specific questions. She declined.
According to Kaiser, a power surge caused a computer outage that damaged the city’s billing system, making names and addresses of some customers inaccessible. She said through an emailed statement to the BND and over the phone that an “outside source” has been contracted to “assist in the recovery” of that data.
The city hopes to resolve the problem and issue the remaining bills by Tuesday, Kaiser said, though she cautioned that time frame could be affected by the extent of the damage to the software system.
“We didn’t want to include a timeframe in our statement in case it didn’t materialize,” she said.
She said no late fees will be assessed for May billing.
Belleville has 42,404 residents and 17,824 households, according to the last U.S. census. Some of the bills were mailed on time, Kaiser said, though she couldn’t say late Friday afternoon how many were delayed by the computer outage.
Last June, St. Clair County alerted about 600 residents that some of their personal information may have been jeopardized by a ransomware attack on the county’s computer network. The malware infection prompted the county to shut down its computer system and website for several days, beginning May 30, 2021.
Kaiser said the city’s computer system has not been breached in any way.
Kaiser emailed the following statement:
“The City of Belleville experienced a computer outage on April 27. 2022, which resulted in the physical failure of discs attributed to our server. This outage has affected our LOCIS Software system, which includes our Sewer Billing division.
“Per discussion with our IT department and the outside source we have contracted to assist in the recovery process, this situation was the result of a power surge to our system, and there is no evidence of any malicious attack on our system from outside sources.”
The problem became public on Thursday, when the following message was posted on the Welcome to Belleville Facebook page:
“ATTENTION ALL CITY RESIDENTS: Due to a computer system outage at the City of Belleville, we have been unable to issue our monthly Sewer bills which is why you have not received them, via the US Postal Service. We have also been unable to issue direct debiting for this months bills as well.
“We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. We are working diligently to rectify this situation, as soon as possible.”
It’s not known how the city intends to notify local residents who don’t have Facebook accounts or internet access of the computer problem and its effect on sewer bills.
Reporter Teri Maddox and Senior Editor Todd Eschman provided information for this story.