Water management company issues first bills
By LYNETTE SOWELL
With the go-live date of April 3 more than three weeks ago, the City of Copperas Cove’s utility customers have begun receiving new bills from FATHOM Water Systems, the company which now manages city water and solid waste customer accounts.
This is part of a 15-year agreement approved by the Copperas Cove city council in May 2016 between the city and FATHOM for the company to take over customer service and management of approximately 13,000 residential and commercial accounts.
The road hasn’t gotten any smoother for some customers with the issue of the first bills from FATHOM directly. Customers received some surprises where the billing line items are concerned.
On the new bills, the solid waste collection charge is listed on the itemized section of the bill as “Rubbish”—something that Jason Bethke, president and chief growth officer at FATHOM, told the Leader-Press via email that will be updated to “Solid Waste” in the near future.
“Clarifications will be made to line items on bills,” Bethke said.
The line item “Storm Water Charge” is actually what was referred to as a “drainage fee” on bills prior to the changeover to FATHOM.
Some residents have also expressed concerns that their senior citizen discount is no longer in effect.
“Senior citizen discounts are still in place—they are now built into the base rate for those customers,” Bethke stated. “In order to help clarify this, we are updating the transaction line item to include “senior” in the description.”
The confusion that some customers have encountered with these new bills is nothing new in the transition process, with the city falling behind by one month on its billing last fall.
At the first of two town hall meetings jointly held by FATHOM and the City of Copperas Cove Utility Administration, the city’s budget director and assistant to the city manager, Ryan Haverlah, told residents in March that the seven-cycle billing system in place at that time had some “billing inconsistencies” in 2016.
Haverlah said customers were billed outside their normal billing dates, and also that some customers were sent bills for more or less than the average 30 days in a month, with some 35 or 40-day billing periods, or some as few as 25 days.
Then in October, the new meter installation began and in November 2016, billing was started based on the new meters for the first ones receiving new meters, further adding to the tangle.
Beginning with cycle 3 billing in December, those bills ended up over a month behind being sent out, with Haverlah explaining the readings received from the new meters wasn’t in the correct format and they had to figure out how to import those numbers into the city’s current system.
Haverlah said a notice was sent out to all seven billing cycles on Dec. 9 when that issue arose, apologizing that the city was behind on its billing. Customers would receive bills in February which normally they would have received in January. Bills sent out in the March 1-15 time frame, Haverlah said, was billing for February.
“One of the things our customers have said is, ‘Well, you just sent me a bill, then you sent me another bill,’” Haverlah said. “We were behind in billing. We were still trying to catch up.”
Haverlah showed a graphic that demonstrated the time frame for billing over all seven cycles.
Unfortunately, that catching up didn’t complete before the transition to FATHOM management. Bills also went out at the end of March, causing two bills in the month of March for some customers.
Now, instead of having seven billing cycles, FATHOM is changing things up for customers.
“The new system will bring consistency to billing cycles. Moving forward, service periods will always be for the previous month,” Bethke said. “For example, meter reads collected this Friday, April 28 will be for the period between March 30 and April 28. Then, bills will be mailed the following Friday, May 5.”
Also, Bethke confirmed that no customers are paying up front or in advance for any of their services for the current month, but will only be charged for the previous month.
As far as getting help for their accounts—all of which have new numbers—FATHOM reps said all of their support representatives are available to assist Copperas Cove residents. Some residents were concerned that individuals weren’t able to help them over the phone and instead were sending them to the utilities office downtown—which only has two employees on site.
“Some customer historical information resides with the city. If residents were seeking information that support representatives couldn’t access, they would have advised going to the office in person,” Bethke wrote. “This week, the city and FATHOM agreed that FATHOM would handle securing this information on behalf of the customer, eliminating the need for an office visit. Other than that, customers can be fully serviced over the phone.”
Both Bethke and Haverlah-also issued a statement to the Leader-Press on Wednesday.
“The City of Copperas Cove has implemented a new water utility billing system through FATHOM. While the system was being implemented, billing was delayed for one full cycle. We understand that members of the community recently received their first bills through this system and that as a result of the delay, these initial bills are significantly higher than average. We’d like to ensure residents that their most recent bills do not reflect any rate changes or new surcharges – they are simply a combination of the past two usage cycles, as the previous cycle went unbilled during the city’s transition period.”
This explains the present double-consumption numbers as well as paying two months’ worth of drainage/storm water fees.
“The City of Copperas Cove and FATHOM are committed to delivering quality service to its residents. Our primary goal is to make certain that Copperas Cove residents fully understand their water bills. Due to the fact that the most recently issued bills are higher than average, Copperas Cove has extended the payment deadline from 15 days to 45 days from the bill’s issued date. Residents who have further questions or concerns about their water bills should call 844-685-6349, or visit https://copperascove.gwfathom.com for assistance. Our customer service team is available Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT and will work to answer any questions or resolve any issues as soon as possible.”