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Inspector General: Unpaid water treatment bills could've led to Baltimore health crisis

Running water
Posted at 4:17 PM, Nov 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-02 08:53:31-04

BALTIMORE — A new report from the Inspector General shows unpaid bills for water treatment chemicals could have led to a health crisis in Baltimore City.

It all started back in June when the Office of the Inspector General received a complaint alleging that Baltimore City's Departments of Finance and Public Works failed to pay a vendor for chemicals that help purify the city's tap drinking water.

Without the chemicals, lead and copper could've potentially spread from water mains and home plumbing pipes that would be similar to what Flint, Michigan experienced.

Last November, several weeks before its contract renewal date, the vendor had reportedly requested a price increase for their products. Although the contract was approved, the price adjustment was not, prompting the vendor to send two follow-up emails regarding the pricing increase.

Those emails went unanswered, so the vendor began submitting invoices which included the price increase. Because the invoices didn't match the rates in the City's procurement website, they weren't paid.

The vendor then alerted the city that if the balance wasn't paid, it would pause deliveries of the chemical.

According to the Department of Public Works, there was a two-week pause in services, which left two Montebello water filtration plants with critically low levels of chemical treatment supplies.

"We had a vendor that wasn't getting almost $70,000 of money owed to them and constantly trying to communicate to try and get paid," said Baltimore City Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming."So, in this case, I do believe the City of Baltimore's communications truly broke down and it was not the vendor, it was actually we should've been more on top of such an important chemical."

By June 15, the City had paid-off a majority of the invoices. The City and vendor then agreed to sign an emergency contract extension through January 1, 2023, to resolve the price hike situation.

The Inspector General concluded that the City should develop Standard Operating Procedures to handle and avoid future vendor disputes.

In response to the OIG report, the Bureau of Accounting and Payroll Services (BAPS) agreed to update its policies and procedures to better manage vendor invoices during pricing disputes.

The full OIG report can be found here: