We want to hear from you!
In an effort to gather your opinions on a some specific topics related to customer billing we developed a short customer survey. The survey takes just a few minutes and is available at city hall or may be completed online.
One topic that comes up repeatedly is the quarterly billing cycle. Many people budget for expenses on a monthly basis. Rent or mortgage payments are generally due monthly as are many other utility bills. Paying a smaller amount each month may be easier for many customers than paying an amount three times as much once every three months.
Earlier leak detection is another argument in favor of a switch from quarterly to monthly billings. Often water leaks go unnoticed until a customer receives a larger than usual bill. By that time, thousands of gallons of water have been wasted.
The downside of monthly billing is it costs more. Three times as much paper, printer toner and postage would be required. It also requires more staff time.
Public works personnel drive through the streets of Salida and Poncha Springs to read the meters. The reading data is then transferred into the billing system and used to calculate the bills. Staff reviews exception reports to identify any missed or unusual readings. Each quarter, some meters must be re-read or manually checked. Finally, bills are printed, folded, stamped and prepared for mailing. Processing payments by check and cash are also takes staff time. All these steps, of course, would happen once per month rather than once every three months. This takes time away from other projects and may even mean adding some hours for part-time personnel.
At a time when we are looking for ways to reduce costs and operate as efficiently as possible, the arguments for and against monthly billing must be carefully considered. The water and sewer operations of the City are organized as enterprise funds. Costs are paid by the rates customers pay for service. Accordingly, any incremental costs are ultimately passed along to customers.
A couple of ways to reduce costs are ACH payments and “paperless” bills.
ACH stands for Automated Clearing House and is a form of electronic bill payment widely used by both commercial and governmental sectors, most commonly for debit card transactions, direct deposit, business-to-business payments and federal, state or local tax payments. This option for paying water and sewer bills has been used by the City since 2009. You still recieve a bill in the mail so you know the amount of the charges.
Customers fill out an ACH Authorization Agreement and return it along with a voided check to City Hall. Once set up, customers never have to worry about mailing a check again. It saves hours of staff time in processing the checks that arrive in the mail, entering them in the billing system, creating the bank deposits and filing payment records.
Paperless billing is not currently available but is being considered. If we find enough interest from our customers to justify the cost, we could purchase an add-on software application that would allow us to create an electronic copy of the bill. The future savings on paper, printer toner, postage and staff time would need to be sufficient to cover the cost of the new software and staff time to implement the new process.
A draft copy of the new utilities chapter of the Salida Municipal Code will be discussed at the April 5 work session and is included in the council packet materials. We plan to present it to the council for approval April 19. It was revised to resolve inconsistencies between water and sewer provisions and other sections of the code and to remove rates and administrative details. The new code will allow for future changes in billing processes such as switching from a quarterly to monthly cycle.
First quarter bills were just mailed out. Rates increased 5% according to the fee increases approved by city council a few years back. The new rates for water service approved by council in March will apply to the bill you will receive around the first of July. Any other changes, such as monthly billing, would not go into effect until July 1st at the earliest.