Columbia resident to express utility services concerns at city council
COLUMBIA – One Columbia resident plans to raise issues concerning utility billing and give suggestions to Columbia Water and Light regarding improved customer service at Monday's city council meeting.
Tom Devlin, an army veteran and longtime Columbia resident, said his concerns include security deposit refunds, improvement of complaint procedures and elimination of the tier structure for electric rates.
“I think that a flat rate would be much more equitable to the citizens because it would be easier to understand and cause less confusion,” Devlin said.
He added the change to a flat rate could be cheaper for individual homes.
However, second ward city councilman Michael Trapp said the city has a purpose behind the tiered system.
“Tiered center billing is really integral to our nature as a city who prides ourselves on conservation,” he said. “With most electricity, the more you use the less you pay because it takes the same amount of infrastructure to bring that electricity to your home... But in our utility, the more you use the more you pay, because we value conservation,” Trapp said.
Devlin said he agrees with conservation efforts, but he believes those initiatives are already taking place.
“There has been a 20 percent decrease in consumption over the last five years, so the conservation is already there,” Devlin said.
Trapp said the city’s goal is to focus long term. Therefore, the need for conservation is never-ending.
“We want people to cut back on uses,” he said. “We build electrical systems based on usage, and it makes more sense for those who use energy during peak time to pay more for their energy usage.”
Devlin also plans suggest a consumer complaint board to handle customer issues with Water and Light. He mentioned he has had some frustrating experiences trying to communicate with the department.
“It was frustrating because I had trouble contacting a customer service rep and never was able to speak to a person,” Devlin said.
Trapp said the utility billing software system the city is using is new and a work in progress.
“They changed what the bills looked like, and we received a large barrage of calls,” he added.
Trapp mentioned there were some mistakes in transitioning over, and everything was not handled perfectly.
“We are working to make all of our city services more accessible by phone,” Trapp said. “Our goal is to have a contact center where we’ll only have one phone number for almost all of our routine business.”