New utility system violates city ordinance; adds to list of problems

8 months 1 week 1 day ago October 13, 2016 Oct 13, 2016 Thursday, October 13 2016 Thursday, October 13, 2016 1:44:00 PM CDT in News
By: Lauren Barnas, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA – A new utility system has troubled Columbia residents since September, but the most recent round of utility bills are charging some customers for either 20 or 40 days of services, violating a city ordinance and increasing the cost for some users.

The ordinance calls for customers to be billed in a reasonable, predictable, manner:

            Sec. 27-19. - Billing and payment.

            (a) The city shall render a bill once during each billing period to every customer in accordance with the applicable rate schedule.

            (b) The manner of furnishing the statement shall be as determined by the finance director, provided each customer is billed in a reasonable, predictable manner.

            Billing period. 

            The utility usage period of thirty (30) days, except for initial or final bills.

Single dad Adam Dickerson said his bills are neither predictable nor reasonable.

“I work two jobs, so I’ll work an extra hour or two and cover it. It’s not fair but it’s what has to be done,” Dickerson said.

Columbia Utilities Assistant Director Jim Windsor said the 20-day bill fell under the old system, giving the city time to install the new system.

The City of Columbia recognizes some customers could be overcharged because the city uses a tier system. Because utilities were measured over a span of 40 days, users could be pushed into a higher usage tier than normal.

However, Windsor said not all customers were affected. He said 6 of 16 billing cycles were extended longer than normal, which would impact about 37 percent of users.

“If we did impact the customers we will give them a credit on a future bill. That won’t happen right away, but it will happen in a future bill, ” Windsor said.

Dickerson is also a software developer. He said the time to fix the system’s problems is now.

“I used to work for the Department of Education," he said. "When something went wrong, we fixed it. There wasn’t this thing of ‘oh let me go home.’ No, this needs to be fixed now.”

But Windsor said, “Most people it probably didn’t impact them at all. There could be people where it would affect them a few dollars."

The biggest issue for Dickerson and his daughter isn't the amount of money; it’s accountability.

“If they want to call they can, but right now we don’t really have time to deal with that issue,” Windsor said.

Windsor told KOMU the city will try to fix the issue in the next few months, but did not give a specific date.

[Editor's Note: This story has been updated to show that some, but not all, customers were affected by this issue.]

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