New technology to help with utility billing process

In late 2017, the City of Auburn wrapped up its automated meter infrastructure project, which has since enabled the utility billing people to get monthly, weekly, daily, even hourly meter reads.

The new technology not only allows much faster potential leak identification but has let Auburn transition its water customers to monthly consumption billing.

Here’s the point: in the bills the City sends out on Jan. 16, 2019, it will begin billing water customers every month for base rate and consumption. Going forward, all customers will be billed the third Wednesday of every month.

To have all customers on the same schedule in January, some customers saw consumption on their bills for November, December and January.

While the City had historically billed utility customers every two months for all water, sewer, storm and solid waste charges, in 2007, it changed to billing base rates monthly but continued to bill consumption bi-monthly, the latter to accommodate the reading of more than 14,000 water meters manually and by radio read.

That means, every month, customers have been getting a bill that is considerably higher than the previous month.

“This is an ongoing source of confusion for a lot of customers to this day,” utility billing manager Brenda Goodson-Moore told city leaders at a recent meeting. “We get phone calls asking, ‘Why is my bill so much higher than it was last month?’ And we explain, ‘because it’s a two-month read.’ … Under our new proposal, their bill would be much more even.”

In 2011, as the City Council was considering a return to bi-monthly billing, it asked for an across-the-board review of bi-monthly vs. monthly billing. While it ultimately decided that monthly billing was much more consistent, the issue of the fluctuating bills – base rate bill vs. the higher consumption bill – has continued to plague customers who struggle to manage their budgets.

Today, staff bills utilities each week in five separate billing districts, totaling more than 22,000 accounts, but the new order of things will allow the City’s finance department to consolidate all of the districts into one. All customers will be billed on the same day, with the same due date.

The new layout of the City utility bill should make it easier to understand and provide customers with up-to-date information regarding their monthly charges.

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