More changes coming to Copperas Cove utility billing
By BRITTANY FHOLER
On the heels of Tuesday afternoon’s announcement by the City of Copperas Cove that only mail-in and in-person payments would be accepted for utilyt payments starting Dec. 1, City Manager Ryan Haverlah followed up with an announcement that online payments would continue to be accepted through Dec. 9.
Updates on payment options include mailing payments to P.O. Box 1419 Copperas Cove, TX 76522; paying in person at the Utility Office at Suites A and B at City Hall, 914 S. Main Street; the addition of a drop box option at Suite B; and the ability to pay online until December 9.
The city is also working with Copperas Cove Police Department to authorize an option for a drop off location in the lobby, to provide a secure area for customers to drop off payments.
The announcement and more information came during a special meeting of the Copperas Cove city council on Tuesday, when the council directed Haverlah to begin negotiating a contract for software needs for the city’s inhouse full-service utility administration department.
Following the Nov. 9 announcement that the city’s utility billing provider, Fathom, would be going out of business, the city staff and city council have been busy trying to pick up the pieces.
Tuesday’s meeting was another step in the process of bringing utility billing and customer service back under the city. Haverlah informed the council Tuesday that the city has selected people for the three CSR positions, with a tentative start date for the week of December 2.
Haverlah said the city is still looking to hire a billing technician. The job posting for that position is available at https://copperascove.applicantpro.com/jobs/1262613.html.
During previous council meetings and during the Public Forum held last Friday, it was announced that Fathom was ceasing operations on November 30, 2019.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Haverlah announced that this date had changed.
“As far an update, in our discussions with FATHOM last week on Friday we received notification of the possibility that Fathom would continue providing services to their clients in light of all the necessary transitions that must occur and knowing that it wouldn’t occur as quickly as the banks felt it would, the possibility that they would continue providing service until December 17, 2019,” Haverlah said. “As of today, they have solidified that they will maintain services through December 9, 2019, so customers can continue to make online payments and we will continue to process payments locally as well as payments that are mailed or dropped off through the systems that we currently have under contract and are being provided to the city.”
Some of the third-party contract vendors that Fathom has been using are the ones responsible for allowing Fathom to continue operations until December 9.
During the Special Meeting held last Thursday and the Public Forum held last Friday, Haverlah said that the city needed to purchase software for reading meters and for maintenance of the collection system, which he said was estimated to cost $30,400.
The actual quote for a 36-month contract through Core & Main, the sole source provider of Copperas Cove’s geographic region for Neptune is $27,843.75.
Legally, $50,000 is the limit necessary to need council approval before entering into a contract, but Haverlah said he wanted to “make sure because we’ve been informing our customers we would keep everyone apprised of what was going on and I want to make sure this is very open and direct as to what we are doing and what we are proceeding with.”
The council authorized Haverlah to procure the software agreement and directed him to begin negotiating a contract with Incode regarding a customer information system, customer portal, work order system and billing printer/mailer to bring back to council for approval.
Incode’s customer portal is not as “robust”, “pretty” “user-friendly” or “intuitive” compared to other companies’ customer portals, as described by Haverlah and Public Works Director Scott Osburn.
Haverlah also asked the council to give direction on him approaching WaterSmart, the third-party company that currently provides the city’s customer portal with Fathom. WaterSmart approached the city and offered to continue providing the customer portal, even after Fathom ceases operations and goes dark.
However, after Fathom ceases, the information in the portal online would be static and not change- so customers would not see changes to their bill online or changes in their water usage online, but they would still have a place to pay their bill online, with payments going to the city. All of this would be at no charge, Haverlah said.
Copperas Cove has a 55 percent customer base engagement online for using WaterSmart, which is the highest nationwide.
Haverlah requested direction on whether city staff should pursue looking into using WaterSmart as the vendor for the customer portal, separate from Incode, to which council members agreed.