After two months when the city of Statesboro’s bills for water and other services went out as much as two weeks late, the bills are back on schedule with those mailed Tuesday morning, said City Clerk Sue Starling.
The city installed new billing software on its computer system this summer. Meanwhile, the Water and Wastewater Department brought a spate of newly installed wireless meters into service, and glitches with the readings from these aggravated her billing staff’s transition to the new software, Starling explained.
“It’s just a combination of everything, with the meter change-out and the software change-out for billing and just having to get it all corrected and done,” she said.
When some water meters could not be read automatically, they had to be rechecked manually.
Starling told the mayor and council last week that no customers were charged late fees during the time when the billing delays were occurring, and nobody’s water was cut off for late payment. But that will end with the bills in the mail this week, the third and final round of bills issued during September.
“The bills that are going out today, they’re going to be due Oct. 14, and that’s when we’re actually going to start back adding penalties and cutoffs,” Starling said.
The city issues bills at three different times each month, to customers in different parts of town.
No customers were penalized for late payments on bills that were scheduled to have gone out from the third billing round of July, originally slated for July 25, through the second billing round of September. So, the waiver remains in effect for that second set of September bills, which carry an Oct. 4 due date, as it was for September’s first round.
This way, all customers received the waiver opportunity for two months, Starling said.
No waiver notices
However, the city did not state in the bills or otherwise inform its water and sewer subscribers that the late fees and cutoff times were being waived. At the Sept. 20 City Council meeting, Mayor Jan Moore and council members asked why this was so.
“The complaints that I’ve gotten, which have been numerous, are that they get their bill and they don’t realize that nothing’s going to happen, that they’re not going to get cut off,” Moore said, “and the bill comes late and then they’ll run down there to pay it, and then they’ll go, ‘Well, we weren’t going to cut you off anyway.’”
Starling said she thought that putting a notice of penalty waivers on the bills would have made the situation worse. Some customers would probably have used the notices to contest late fees and cutoffs after billing returned to normal, she said.
“When you start publicizing that we’re not cutting it off and they get used to seeing that on the bill, then the month that we restart, they’ll be saying that you didn’t do it last month and they didn’t see it on the bill this time that they were going to get cut off ….,” Starling told the council. “We want everybody to stay accustomed to the due date.”
Customers coming in to pay outside of their usual schedule or to ask questions about the late bills formed lines at City Hall at times during the past two months, through Monday. Some had to wait 10 minutes, but never as long as half an hour, Starling said.
“When they’d come in of course we’d tell them what was going on, but we didn’t charge any penalties, we didn’t charge any cutoffs,” she said Monday. “But with the bills that are due on the 14th of October we’ll start back with our regular process.”
A letter went out with the bills Tuesday telling customers that everything is back to normal, Starling said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.