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February 20, 2014

White Springs: Thousands in lost revenue discovered-Faulty billing resulted in about $35-50,000 per year

Jasper — The town of White Springs recently upgraded their utility billing software and Town Manager Bob Farley said, “We’ve gotten a lot of positive comments on the way the bills look. They’re a lot easier to read and have a lot more information showing.”

Farley said the town has also received customer complaints about higher water bills.

The new bills, Farley said, include a graph showing water usage, so that customers can compare current and previous usage. Additionally, town staff can now make corrections immediately and reprint a new bill. Old meter usage, Farley said, can also be captured.

“When we changed out meters previously mid-cycle, we lost what water was used by the customer for that period.”

Work orders can now be produced within one minute, Farley continued, and can be dispatched immediately. The software also flags meter reader or operator input error, and unusual readings can help identify a faulty or non-functioning water meter.

“We’ve run across several of those where people have had busted pipes and they’re not aware of it,” said Farley. “So, we immediately tell the customer, after we’ve verified that we didn’t make any mistakes, that they’ve got a leak. We’re being proactive.”

The Waste Pro garbage report, Farley added, is now more simplified. Also, since the bills are now being mailed to customers in an envelope, rather than the old postcard style, the town can stuff flyers inside with important information, rather than doing a separate mailing, thus saving the town money. Additionally, now that the town is using a folding machine and a postage meter that comes with a one cent credit per item mailed, the process is much faster and also saves the town money.

Farley said when they first put in the new billing software, he was adamant that correct information be initially entered into the computer to prevent issues down the road, which included making certain the correct person was being billed at each address.

“We found out that there were customers who were not being billed for garbage,” said Farley. “We found customers who were not being billed for sewer that should have been. We found customers that were not being billed at all. There were two of them.”

Outside town rates were also incorrect, Farley went on, and weren’t being billed according to town ordinance.

“Some in-town commercial and residential customers had an incorrect rate and it was just random,” he said. “One of our major customers was not being billed for sewer at all...has never been billed for sewer. That equates to about $250 per month.”

That major customer was Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, according to Mayor Helen Miller. The park is now being properly billed.

All the issues that were discovered have now been corrected. The loss of revenue to the town from the faulty billing over the years, Farley said, probably amounted to about $35,000 to $50,000 per year.

Although the new billing software was expensive, Farley said it is already paying for itself. Town staff, he added, is available for any customer questions. He said new administrative assistant Anita Rivers is becoming a whiz on the computer and can easily respond to questions from customers about their bills.

Farley said he is hopeful that the town can take the next step and convert to digital billing via e-mail to their customers.

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