In March, city leaders peppered representatives of Utility Service Partners with a lot of questions while the firm was presenting its proposed Service Line Warranty Program to repair private water service lines and side sewers for Auburn’s single-family property owners.
Going into that March meeting, city staff had already identified concerns about the program’s requirements, and when all the council questioning was over went off to do more research to see how the program was working for the cities of Kenmore, College Place, Kelso, Sunnyside and Dayton.
All of those cities provide water and sewer service except for Kenmore, which contracts with the Northshore Utility District. College Place and Dayton are the latest to contract with USP and have yet to implement the program.
But in the cities of Kelso, Kenmore and Sunnyside where data is available, there is a lot of grumbling.
Among the key problems have been USP’s demand for access to a city’s customer database and that it be allowed to use a contracting city’s logo in its advertising, said Utilities Engineering Manager Lisa Tobin. She said this demand has prompted anger and confusion in the three cities about whether the SLWP is a city-endorsed program.
It is not.
“The biggest (concern from the three cities that implemented it) is that the customers are really confused by the information that they were receiving there. They were concerned it might be some kind of fraud or scam. There have been a lot of calls to city departments, people wondering ‘what do I do with this?’ There have been accusations that it is inappropriate for a public city to be engaging in this kind of support of a private company. In fact, there has been a complaint filed with the office of the state insurance commissioner, and that is, as of yet, unresolved,” Tobin said.
Tobin added that those mailing lists which the three cities did not themselves provide appear to be error-ridden, which has been causing even more confusion.
Rob Roscoe, director of human resources and risk manager for the city of Auburn, said customers have also confused SLWP with an insurance program. It is not an insurance program, he said; it only warranties the customer’s line.
“To me, the biggest (risk) potential is the reputation risk, where we put our City of Auburn logo on there, and a consumer may feel we are supporting that, and they purchase something with our backing or support of it, and the end product may be a disappointment. And once you erode that, you’re not going to get it back,” Roscoe said.
“In our machinist’s union, we jealously guard our logo, we do not allow others to use it in any way, and I think we ought to do the same thing,” said Councilman Larry Brown.
In the end, council consensus was a big no.