City Utility Billing Issues: What's Next?
The City of Independence is struggling to sort out problems with the implementation of the new utility billing system which went live at the end of May.
The City announced in late August that it would hire an outside firm to undertake an external audit following up on an internal audit by city management analyst. The outside firm BHMG Engineers will be paid $15,000 and expects to complete its work by late September.
The firm will look at ten different issues:
Billing system conversion
Billing calculation validations
Rate set up
Fuel Factor calculations
kWh sales increases due to weather
Management analyst Jordan Ellena recommended hiring an outside firm in a four-page memo he sent to the City Council on Aug. 23. Ellena said he had "major concerns" about the decision to "go-live" on the new billing system which was a year behind schedule.
In the memo, Ellena wrote:
"Besides the obvious, that taking a new billing system live during the hottest part of the year was not a smart decision, a series of other circumstances contributed to the decision to go-live when we did. Those circumstances have in my opinion contributed to some of the issues outlined above. The implementation and roll out of the CIS billing system took a least a year longer than originally envisioned. Multiple golive dates were pushed for various reasons. These delays continued until the situation become untenable and pressure from the City Manager's Office to get the system up and running won out."
The billing issues have spawned a FaceBook page (Independence Power & Light Bill Discussion) which has over 1,600 members, an online petition for the Missouri Attorney General to investigate and efforts to potentially a formal petition to get the Missouri State Auditor to investigate (4,900 signatures are required).
The customer issues are myriad but included delayed billing, questions about accuracy, difficulty getting through to customer service, confusion and considerable anger.
The city initiated an internal audit and acknowledged several issues. Here's a summary (8/3) of some issues found:
Following are the payment processing issues that were discovered:
Some payments were not immediately being applied to an account when paid online. This issue was resolved shortly after implementation.
Approximately 170 customers’ accounts utilizing auto bank draft were not being sent to the bank to withdraw a payment. This issue has been fixed.
Some payments were not posted in a timely manner because the 64057 zip code of the Independence Utility Center was not recognized by banks. Staff are working with banks to ensure all have an updated address for the Utilities.
Work on billing issues continues.
Billing system questions are affecting the City Council's willingness to approve a $30 million project to install new smart meters - also known as Advanced Metering Initiative (AMI) - which would replace analog electrical and water meters with digital devices.