City of Copperas Cove, FATHOM split complete
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove City Council held a special meeting last Thursday to approve an agreement with companies to finish the process of bringing the city’s utility services back to being an inhouse, full-service department.
During the meeting City Manager Ryan Haverlah summarized the city’s efforts thus far since Fathom first announced it would be going out of business, leaving all of its clients, including Copperas Cove, in the lurch.
The final day of service from Fathom was Friday, December 13. Sunday, December 16, was the last payment posting date, and the last day of data extraction from Fathom to the city was Monday, December 17.
On Tuesday morning, the city announced that Utility Administration is temporarily unable to take credit card payments at this time, and that the City and a credit card processing company are working closely to correct the problem preventing credit card payments. Once corrected, a notice will be released. Accounts will not be considered delinquent should this situation delay customer payments
Regarding bills, Fathom has already sent out bills for cycles 1, 2 and 3, on time. For the four other cycles, whose bills were sent out on Friday, the billing period is cut short. Haverlah explained that these bills would include base rates and consumption of approximately 20 to 29 days.
The city anticipated that there will be no bills sent out for a period of up to six weeks, Haverlah said. When the next bills are finally sent out again, they will include consumption from the last reading date and all fees and charges. There will be an option for customers needing payment arrangements to pay their larger than usual bill amount.
In a Monday afternoon press release from the city, customers were instructed to call the Utilities Administration number to make those payment arrangements, once their next bills arrive.
“Customers are welcome, and we encourage you, to continue making some sort of payment in advance and in anticipation of receiving a reconciled bill following the transition. Delaying bill payments during the transition period will not cause delinquency; however, for those customers who do not keep their account current during the transition, they will have to make appropriate payment arrangements within the first billing after the transition is complete. Please be aware that once the transition is completed, customers will receive a reconciled bill for all services rendered.”
Online payments will still be available through WaterSmart’s customer portal, according to Haverlah. Auto Pay will not be available until after the completed transition to a new system.
Customers can expect to receive in the mail printed information about the transition, billing, payments and more.
Residents can still pay their bills by mail, sending checks or money orders to: City of Copperas Cove Utilities Administration, P.O. Drawer 1419, Copperas Cove, TX 76522.
To pay in person, residents can stop by City Hall, Suites A and B, at 914 S. Main Street. Residents can utilize the drop off locations at Suite A during business hours and outside of Suite B, after business hours, as well as at the Police Department at 302 E Ave E by handing the sealed payment to a Records Clerk or Communications Operator.
The city has hired two additional customer service representatives and is in the process of interviewing for a third. They have also listed a job opening for a billing technician. The city has expanded the Utilities office from Suite A of City Hall to Suite B. During previous meetings, Haverlah informed council members and residents this process would cost an estimated $10,000. This price didn’t factor in the purchase of new electronic equipment such as computers, scanners and printers, so the final price ended up being $13,080, Haverlah said.
With the expansion into Suite B, and the new traffic of residents paying their bill in person, came the need to find alternate parking solutions for city staff to clear up parking spots for customers. Some options include Lott Vernon, PenFed Credit Union and the Justice of the Peace offices, through Judge Bill Price.
The long-term solution to the need for a location for utility administration services, in house, is to renovate the former Utility Administration building at 305 S. Main Street. The cost for the building’s interior upgrades including abatement, ceiling work, flooring, bringing bathrooms to ADA compliance, security, etc. is estimated to be $93,600. Exterior upgrades include parking, ADA accessibility and a new sign, for an estimated cost of $39,000. For an automated payment kiosk that would accept cash payments, to be installed in the drive-thru lane, the cost would be $28,327 plus shipping and handling.
The council voted to accept an agreement with WaterSmart Software, which allows for customers to continue to use the customer portals set up with Fathom to check their usage, pay their bill and more.
“The one thing that we as staff recommend is that we do recommend going with WaterSmart, particularly because our customers are already being affected by this transition. It’s difficult for them already,” Haverlah said. “This is one option that will make that transition consistent with what they’re used to, but it also gives us the ability to send out numerous messages, which we unfortunately have not utilized nor did we know the capabilities of messaging through WaterSmart.”
Haverlah shared the costs for the collection hardware and meter reading software for staff to actually read the water meters. There is a total cost of $27,844 for 36-months of service for collector maintenance, collector upgrades and propagation support. For Insight software, Insight maintenance, manual reading hardware support and meter reading data transfer to the customer portal, there will be an annual cost of $38,099.
During the meeting, the city council also approved an agreement with InCode, under Tyler Technologies, to be the vendor for the customer information and billing software. This agreement includes a one-time set-up fee of $138,790 plus an annual cost of $69,814. Funds for this agreement will come from funds in the budget authorized for payment to Fathom this fiscal year.
Council members also approved an agreement with DataProse to be the bill printing and mailing vendor for an annual cost of $113,000, to also come from funds previously budgeted for Fathom.