Copperas Cove issues press release: FATHOM is going out of business
By LYNETTE SOWELL
THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED AS OF NOV. 14 AT 10 P.M.
.The City of Copperas Cove issued a press release shortly before 8 p.m. on Tuesday that it received an email notification from FATHOM on Saturday, November 9, that the company will be going out of business.
“Despite a massive effort this year, we [FATHOM] have not been able to secure an investment or additional debt to save our business,” stated Jason Bethke, company president in the email, of which the Leader-Press obtained a copy via an open records request.
Bethke stated that FATHOM’s focus has turned from that to providing an exit for its clients and that over the past month, a team from the company was working to find alternatives for clients to provide continuity of service.
“FATHOM hosted a webinar early Tuesday morning with clients throughout the nation to provide further details on the situation, leading City administration to believe FATHOM will discontinue all contracted services as early as the end of November 2019.”
That webinar was attended by numerous Copperas Cove city staff including the city manager, four directors, and utility administration supervisor, said City Manager Ryan Haverlah.
"To say we are astounded by this announcement is an understatement. While City administration was aware of and understood the day-to-day challenges faced over the past 3½ years, we are disappointed that FATHOM representatives not once spoke of or alluded to this possibility," stated the city in a press release. "We are sharing this information with our citizens and customers in an effort to be transparent about this situation and will continue to provide updates as new information is available. At this point, we are privy to very limited information and continue to seek answers to questions. Calls or visits to Utility Administration to verify or ask questions about the matter, while important, will only slow down local day-to-day operations so please be patient and know updates will be provided as soon as possible."
On Wednesday evening, the City of Copperas Cove provided an update and addressed several questions made on social media about city water accounts and services.
“There will be NO interruption in water service to our customers resulting from Fathom’s decision to close their business. The City receives its water from Belton Lake, through a contract with Bell County WCID #1, and we maintain the city’s water system. The water meters and Neptune meter readers, which were installed during the transition in 2016 and 2017, are owned by the City. FATHOM does NOT have the capability to turn water on/off to your residence, this must be done by City staff.”
As far as bill payments and where the money will “go” after customers make payments, the city recommends customers continue to make payments via the current options available.
“All money that is collected by FATHOM on behalf of the City by any method is applied to the appropriate customer account and remitted to the City. The option to make in person payments to City staff is also available by visiting Utility Administration at City Hall, 914 S. Main Street, Suite A. Account deposits are also in possession of the City, not FATHOM.”
Until further notice, FATHOM is still handling billing and customer care needs through the end of November 2019.
“City administration has a scheduled meeting with FATHOM representatives the week of November 18th to discuss options moving forward. All options will be evaluated, such as needed service agreements, software, and personnel. One such option is to bring full-service in-house utility billing needs of our community back to Copperas Cove.”
As far as legal action by the city, it was announced that the city’s attorney, DNRBZ, is currently reviewing the contract and will provide a legal opinion on their findings at next week’s city council regular meeting on Tuesday, during an executive session.
“As this item is sensitive and may require future litigation, this portion of the meeting will not be open to the public. Any legal action the City might take would be initiated at the direction of City Council.”
City Manager Ryan Haverlah will also make a brief statement referencing the situation during next week’s city council regular meeting on Tuesday, November 19 beginning at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers, 508 S. 2nd St. A town hall meeting is also being coordinated for late next week, which will be open to the public to attend and allow for questions to be asked and answered.
The City of Copperas Cove and FATHOM entered into a partnership on May 17, 2016, for a "software as service" agreement, which included contract that was to have lasted 15 years.
From the very beginning of the transfer of services from the City's Utility Administration Department to account management by FATHOM, the transition was plagued with billing and customer service issues, with multiple visits from company leadership to Copperas Cove.
Earlier this year, the city council approved the addition of two water meter reader technicians, as well as an additional customer service representative for the Utility Administration Department. In 2016, total of nine city staff in that department were offered jobs and transferred to other departments in the city, save for one customer service representative and one water meter tech.
In Dec. 2018, the council directed City Manager Ryan Haverlah to begin looking into renovation costs for the former Utility Administration building on Main Street, which was closed in 2016 when the city transitioned to FATHOM for its utility management. The department presently operates in a suite at City Hall.
“Improvements to the old Utility Admin building have not begun. However, due to this news, the improvement process has continued to prepare for the potential that City Council may direct an in-house full-service department again,” Haverlah said in an email to the Leader-Press on Thursday.
An email to FATHOM regarding the company’s Nov. 9 announcement was not responded to as of press time Thursday.