City responds to utility bill spike

Jeff Guy

Many Wellington residents were were angry and frustrated when they received significantly higer than usual utility bills for the month of August.

The City has received a number of calls regarding the higher than expected bills.  The high rates are due to the July billing period usage having to be estimated for one of the two billing zones in the city.

"This was due to a significant staff shortage, which was previously reported, due to COVID-19 and quarantine requirements impacting the City’s Administration Center including the Utility Billing and City Clerk’s offices.," the press release read. "With adequate staff not available to conduct readings of the utility meters (water and electric), usage was estimated for the billing period involved."

The billing system calculates an average based on the historic usage on the account.  The calculated average resulted in being less than the actual use creating an undercharge for the period, according to the press release.

"The need to estimate the July billing period was not something planned in advance," City Manager Shane Shields said in an email. "The necessity to do so developed overnight.  Notice could have been disseminated that estimates would be used, although, until the August bills were generated, the exact impact of the estimates could not be known.

"For the August billing period, with actual readings resumed, the usage amounts are catching up to the true and actual usage, which has resulted in the August billing being higher than typically expected.  Unfortunately, this situation occurred during a period of time in the season of higher use of electricity and water."

The City typically has seven administrative staff among the Utility Billing, City Clerk and Court offices that are trained in the utility collections billing system, Shields said. The City was left with one staff member remaining.  The two positions that read the utility meters had to be brought into the office to receipt utility payments.  Several other departments have been affected with some staff absence due to COVID-19, but not to the severity of this situation.

Only one of the two billing zones were impacted, Shields said. Those customers in Zone 2 or with the bill date of September 1, were the only ones affected.  Customers in Zone 1 or the bill date of August 15 were not affected.

The City is working with any Zone 2 customers that were impacted by the situation and that may have difficulty in making their current payment.  The City is offering the option of a Good Faith Pay Agreement which allows the amount to be spread out over a reasonable longer period of time.  There have been a number of agreements made, Shiels said.

"The frustration caused by the situation is understandable and the City regrets the inconvenience it has created," Shiels said.

Any customer impacted by this situation and that has concern with not being able to pay their bill should contact the Utility Billing Office, 620-326-2821, and every attempt will be made to work through any payment issue.