Report details deficiences in Marshville water practices

Nov. 21, 2012 @ 11:37 AM

Marshville’s town council learned Monday about reasons for recent errors on town water bills and heard the results of a public utilities evaluation conducted by Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc. .

The company was hired to do the evaluation after multiple residents complained about high and inaccurate water bills.

Monday night, a representative from Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc. gave a short presentation to council members about the results of the company’s water usage, account management and billing practices evaluation of the town.

“The good news is that your manager Amanda (Reid) has identified a good amount of problems and has been taking action before we came on board,” Douglas Bean, director of government services with Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc., said.

The results of the evaluation were highlighted in a PowerPoint presentation that was given to council members in a small bound book since a projector and screen were not available. A full version of the evaluation results was also given to council members for them to read fully at a later time.

The company worked to review and evaluate the town’s meter reading and billing practices, its new account set-up and maintenance practices, unbilled water and water loss. During the review and evaluation, they found that meter reading and billing accountability were deficient, policies and procedures as well as documentation were inadequate, and there were errors and missing information in data, according to the presentation.

“There were some records that were thrown away that shouldn’t have been,” Bean said Monday night.

Other concerns the company found during its review and evaluation were that there was only one person reading meters, inactive meters were not monitored, features of the town’s billing system were not being utilized, some past records had been destroyed or thrown away, notes were not added when records were changed, some customer information was incomplete, data used to determine bill calculation had errors, some meter sizes and numbers could be inaccurate and others, according to the presentation.

One example Bean gave to illustrate the company’s findings focused on the importance of checking both active and inactive meters.

Though water services have been turned off to a location, it’s not hard for someone to turn the water back on. Not reading every meter could have resulted in the town losing money since possible water usage at places where there are inactive meters wasn’t billed, Bean said.

“So every meter whether it’s active or not should be read,” he said.

Conclusions the company came to after its review and evaluation were that inaccurate meter reading, poor account management and lack of accountability has created billing errors and inconsistencies, the town manager has identified contributing factors in the situation. She has begun working on policies and procedures to address the issue  as well as implementation of the recommendations listed in the company’s report.

In response to a question from council members about how to address public concerns and opinions about the town in relation to the water bill issues, Bean said the town needs to be upfront and transparent with the public and that the work of Reid to address and fix the issues is helpful.

“The staff is working diligently to give individual customer attention,” Reid said in reference to addressing customer concerns about water bills.

They’re continuing to look at every case and she is working on creating a policy and procedures manual for town staff to help prevent similar problems from happening in the future. She hopes to present the manual to council members at one of the council’s December meetings. Addressing customer concerns has been time consuming but they are working to look at each issue. In some cases, people have come in with concerns about inaccuracies in their water bills and the bills have later been found to be correct and some people who no longer have accounts with the town have also stopped by to ask for their past accounts to be investigated, Reid said.

Also during the meeting:

• Council members welcomed back Council Member Gary Huntley who suffered a stroke earlier this year and was unable to attend past meetings.

• Reid said that the town’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony will be held on Dec. 1 at 6 p.m.