On Monday, February 24th staff presented further details related to Option B - the 32/30 Plan.
Click the image below to download the presentation from February 24th
On Monday, February 17th a special meeting was held to discuss the recent water billing issue and options for resolution. City staff presented three options:
- Option A – 25 Day Billing Catch-Up (Published Plan) - Increase billing cycle from monthly to every 25 days to catch billing up to meter reads.
- Option B – 32/30 Plan - Increase meter reading from 28 to 32 days and reduce billing from monthly to every 30 days to bring billing and meter reading closer together.
- Option C – Bill Full Amount Due Plan - Bill customers for unbilled consumption to make the system current in a short period of time.
Option B was determined to be the prefered option, so staff will further develop that plan. See below for links to the presentation, agenda, and video of the meeting.
Click the image below to download the presentation from February 17th
The City of Pearland operates a water and water reclamation system that includes nearly 40,000 customers. In addition to treating and delivering the service, there is a metering, reading, and billing system for that service. That responsibility is taken seriously and diligently. Unfortunately, through a decision made in mid-2018 with good intent, but not fully thought through nor communicated internally, the gap between meter reads (usage) and billing grew over time. That gap is now 60 days between what is the service period and the billing. In addition to causing confusion for all of our customers, that creates operational issues for our reading and billing that need to be addressed in some way to close that gap. We apologize in advance for any confusion and issues that arose for customers. We are working diligently to assist everyone with any arrangements that need to be made in order to make this process as smooth as possible for all who are impacted.
What follows is a more detailed background and explanation. There are seven over-arching points to know:
- The billing gap was created by a decision with good intent, to standardize the read cycle at an average of 28 days (some may experience slightly longer or shorter cycles due to holidays or the need to re-read the meter). However, the billing cycle remained at once a month intervals, creating a gap between meter reading (usage) and billing that increased over time.
- The billing gap has nothing to do with the separate system-wide change-out of old meters to new advanced meters. That change-out is going well and nearly 28,000 of almost 40,000 have been successfully completed. However, the reads from the new meters in large part have not reached billing purposes yet due to the delay. In fact, when the new meters are fully operational with wireless read information on demand available later this year, the process between reading, reporting and inputting, and billing will be streamlined and automated.
- Penalties and fines are going to be waived and/or forgiven for any billings that are created by make-up bills going forward. Moreover, payment plans or other arrangements will be provided where requested.
- There is no missing/extra money or other issues for the system due to the gap.
- Refer to the Service Period line in the account information box to determine the date range of a given bill.
- With any schedule to make-up the gap, there will only be 12 base charges per calendar year.
- The content on this page is to clearly explain the current billing cycle situation, if you have a question about consumption volume, please call 281.652.1603.
Water Billing History
For billing purposes, the City is divided into four cycles; 11, 12, 13, and 14. For over 17 years, the billing calendar was structured to target specific bill days for each of the cycles based on a 4-week month. Occasionally, a 5th bill may occur for months with 5 weeks on the monthly calendar.
The following schedule represents how cycles were previously processed.
Billing Cycle Meter Reading Bill Mailed Payment Due Date
- Cycle 11 (east of 35) First Week Second Week 20 days from billing date
- Cycle 12 (between 35 and Max/Manvel Road) Second Week Third Week 20 days from billing date
- Cycle 13 (between Max/Manvel Road and 288) Third Week Fourth Week 20 days from billing date
- Cycle 14 (west of 288) Fourth Week First Week (next Month) 20 days from billing date
The above schedule allows for meter reading periods of between 28-32 days, limiting the bills to 12 annually. The advantage of this billing approach was that every customer can expect just one bill per month. However, the read dates would change depending on the length of the month being billed, it also meant that the amount of days being billed would fluctuate.
In Fiscal Year 2018, there was an influx in complaints being sent to City Council and/or Administration regarding fluctuations to the number of days billed to customers. In order to address these concerns, we consciously decided to review the meter read calendar to ensure that the number of days included on all bills were consistent.
In July 2018 the meter read schedule was revised from billing once monthly per cycle to once every 28 days on average per cycle. With the shortened read cycle, bills should have also generated on a weekly basis. However, the billing cycle continued to be completed monthly, as it had historically in order to maintain continuity in how/when bills were sent to customers, and to avoid billing twice in the same month, avoiding 13 bills per year.
The City is now at billing almost 60-days after the meter reads because billing has been completed monthly but reads have been completed on average every 28 days. The backlog is in no way due to the installation of the new meters. Ideally, billing should be processed within 5-10 days after reads. This decision has resulted in up to a 60-day billing lag for each cycle as outlined below:
Cycle 11 (east of 35) 58 days behind consumption
Cycle 12 (between 35 and Max/Manvel Road) 59 days behind consumption
Cycle 13 (between Max/Manvel Road and 288) 53 days behind consumption
Cycle 14 (west of 288) 58 days behind consumption
While revenues lagged for the summer months of June, July, August and September of 2019, it was not immediately apparent that the decrease in revenues were tied to billing verses actual consumption, as consumption can fluctuate significantly, due to several factors such as weather, rain received, irrigation, filling a pool, etc.
Based on the current lag in billing, the following proposal is being considered by staff and council to “catch up” on the delayed billings. During this time, late fees and water shutoffs will be suspended, and payment plans are available for residents.
The plan began with billing cycle 14 on January 31st. Cycle 14 customers received two (2) bills dated in January for two separate consumption periods. Cycle 11 was billed on February 4th.
In order to reduce the time from 60 days to the desired 5-10 days, customers will receive bills approximately 25 days apart. Below is the tentative schedule that is currently under review of all billing cycles (11 – 14).
(CLICK IMAGE TO DOWNLOAD)
Please note that there will be some adjustments to the schedule during this time period to prevent the overlap of due dates, and to accommodate holidays and weekends. Based on the proposed schedule, we anticipate being caught up to less than 18 days between the read and billing by the end of the year (December 2020). This will depend on the actual implementation date of the new Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). Upon the full implementation of AMI, we will switch to 30-day read cycles which will allow us to gain a few days each month.
Due to the changes, we do foresee that customers will receive a 13th bill in 2020. The 13th will only be for consumption, there will be no base charges. We will not charge more than 12 base charges during the year, and only for actual consumption per meter.
Thank you for your patience while we work through this process. If you have additional questions, please contact Utility Billing Customer Service by calling 281.652.1603. We strive for excellent customer service, so if you experience anything less than that please call the Water Billing and Collections Manager, Denise Parker directly – 281.652.1668 or the Director of Finance, Cynthia Pearson - 281.652.1671.