Utility billing changeover gets extension

Published 8:36 am Monday, October 14, 2013

AHOSKIE – There may be a Grinch that steals a little bit of Christmas for Ahoskie’s utilities customers but the Town Council has done what it can to make it less painful.

At its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday morning the Council unanimously approved a recommendation that will allow the town’s utilities customers an opportunity to spread over time their second month of water/sewer charges in their December bill for a period of up to six months.

The town is currently in the process of switching over its utilities billing system from one where customers are billed two months behind to one where they will be billed on a 30-day cycle.

“We went out and looked at different software programs this year and brought back to Town Council with the recommendation that we move into contract with Black Mountain (utility) software to provide out software program which will do our billing,” Town Manager Tony Hammond told the council members.

In addition to utility billing, the new system will do, among other things: budgeting, human resource management, building inspections, and code enforcement.

Under the current system by Logics Solutions of Raleigh, for example, utilities usage in October would not be billed until December-January.  Such a system produces late finding, notifying, and billing for things such as leaks as hundreds, maybe thousands of gallons of water may have leaked undetected until caught.

“If you have a leak this month, unless you go out and look at your lines you’re not going to know by your bill until the December-January time frame when you get that bill in,” continued Hammond. “So you not only had a leak during that particular time frame, but you’ve had more time for that leak to continue.”

The new utilities billing system by Black Mountain, based in Montana, will require the town to bring all of its utilities accounts up to date and have all charges under the former system billed out before Black Mountain begins its service. This will result in a November bill for 45 days of usage and 60 days usage billed in December.

“Their request is that we start reading between the 21st and the 26th and post everything on the 27th and the bill that you get for the first of the month is going to be for the water you used the previous 30 days,” said Hammond. “It’s going to eliminate that two-month lag cycle.

“So you’re not going to get a normal water bill,” he added. “You’re going to get a water bill that’s going to be twice what it normally is for us to get current.”

To inform customers of the impending change ahead the town will have inserts in upcoming utility bill mailings as well as a media campaign.

Hammond further stated that he expected there may be issues with customers over payment of the double-billing charges and his first recommendation was that after customers paid their first normal, 30-day portion of the bill they would have four months to pay the balance; however he was willing to extend it to six months.

“Once we get that done everything will be current and we will be billing for everything that you’ve used over the past 30 days instead of doing this two months in arrears billing cycle that we’re currently on,” he said.

December’s will be the big bill, according to Patricia Bradley of the town Finance Department, but afterward the billing system would be current and up to date.

Councilwoman Linda Blackburn voiced concerns about the timing because of the holiday season and its effect on family budgets.

“I’m all for it if I can be assured that when folks come to Town Hall they won’t come confused or frustrated and that there’s going to be kindness,” Blackburn said.

“Unfortunately the timing is bad, but we’ve paid (the current utilities biller) thru December 31, said Bradley. “The new software wants to go online as of January,” she added. “So it’s either do it now or continue to pay for two separate softwares.”

Hammond also informed Council that under the current billing system customers are billed in 1,000 gallon increments and partials are placed in an account and the customer isn’t billed until the total reached another 1,000.

“We’re trying to get it where we can read and bill for everything that you use right now,” Hammond said.

Councilwoman Elaine Myers made a motion to approve the recommendation of the billing change with the six-month adjustment period. Councilman Malcolm Copeland seconded the motion and the council then unanimously approved it with a 5-0 vote.