City to hire contractor to help with water bills

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Jackson is planning to bring on another private contractor in the coming weeks to help sort out remaining water and sewer billing problems.

Public Works Director Robert Miller announced last week that about 8,400 customers were still not receiving regular water bills.

Of those, about 7,000 had been getting statements previously, but quit receiving them in the last three to six months.

During that time, the city had been working to correct some accounts for more nearly 22,000 customers who had not received bills for months.

Miller suspects the problems are a result of faulty equipment in the field, rather than in the billing office.

“Either the meter is not communicating with the repeater and collector, or the reading that is coming in is not usable,” he said. “We don’t have enough field personnel to go out and research the problems, so the accounts get stranded.”

Stranded is the term used by the city to describe accounts that are no longer being billed.

The director said private contractors will augment city staff and will do site visits where needed to ensure the meters, transmitters and the like are working properly.

He didn’t know how much the accounts were worth but

hoped to have all of them “unstranded” in the next 90 days.

Miller discussed the accounts at a recent city council water/sewer ad hoc committee meeting. The committee was set up specifically to focus on the water.

He also discussed other progress made on the water system in recent months, including the establishment of a water customer bill of rights, the hiring of a new deputy director to oversee water and sewer billing, and the reorganization of the water/sewer billing department.

The meeting came about six months after Jackson re-hired Siemens to help correct problems in the water and sewer billing department, and six years after that same firm was brought on to completely overhaul the city’s water system.

In 2012, Jackson awarded Siemens a $91 million “energy performance contract,” to make improvements, including installing new water meters and putting in place a new automated billing system. 

The improvements were sold as a way to better track water usage and losses and make the billing system more efficient. Work wrapped up in 2016.

 

Less than two years later, though, the improvements were not living up to the hype. In the spring, city officials announced that some 20,000 customers were not receiving bills, and that collections in water and sewer were off by millions.

In April, the council amended the “energy performance contract,” bringing Siemens back on for approximately $1.12 million.

The work included ensuring the billing system was working properly with the equipment in the field and providing training to city employees to use the new billing software.

Last week, Miller told the council that 21,580 accounts had been corrected through the work, and that $3.2 million of roughly $21.6 million in outstanding fees had been collected.

Siemens submitted documents to the city on October 27, saying it had fulfilled its obligations. Jackson has 30 days to sign off on the documents to close out the work, or to identify areas where work should continue, Miller said.

“There have been items that are both favorable and unfavorable,” Miller said. “We are evaluating Siemens’ submittals right now.”

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