April 16, 2014

Council makes changes to wastewater billing process

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com

Gardner customers can expect a change in the way their sewer bills are calculated this year thanks to a concerned citizen.

Larry Fotovich, Gardner, first noticed a problem with the city’s wastewater billing when the cost of his service spiked.

“I called and asked about how my sprinklers were metered during the summer months,” he said. “That’s when I discovered the first problem – that they had overridden the (winter usage average) process and I was getting wastewater bills for actual water usage and not the average.”

According to city officials, that error was the result of a flag in the software on Fotovich’s bill charging him for actual water usage all 12 months.

Officials said four or five other families were also affected by the faulty-checked box.

That error resulted in a $196 credit to Fotovich’s wastewater bill, and it spurred Fotovich to keep a closer eye on his wastewater charges.
When he received a bill for December showing actual water gallons used to determine his wastewater rate for Novemer, he again contacted the city. His concerns, added to the concerns of a few other residents, forced city officials to examine how they were billing for wastewater.

City council members approved changes to the wastewater utility’s billing procedures during a meeting Monday evening. Before Monday evening, summer sewer bills were determined by averaging residents’ water usage during the December, January, February and March billing cycles. The assumption was that some of the water used in the summer months didn’t hit the city’s wastewater system, because it was used to water lawns, wash cars or fill swimming pools. Under the previous system, from April through November, customers’ sewer usage was identical to water usage.

Fotovich said before Monday night’s meeting, city officials weren’t following their own ordinance.

“They were charging us for wastewater usage in November when the ordinance clearly stated that the real rate should be no more than the winter average, which is presumably lower in most cases,” Fotovich said. “I’m still waiting for an answer as to how many years we’ve been incorrectly billed.  In my case the amount was $12 this year, but if you multiply that number by 7,000 households (in Gardner) and then by 10 or more years, the city could be on the hook for a substantial refund not to mention the man-hours required to audit those records.”

Council members changed the months the city will use for the winter average on Monday night. This year, residents’ summer sewer usage will be determined by their water usage during January and February billing cycles.
The changes will likely only make a difference in sewer charges for approximately 120 people, Laura Gourley, city finance director, told council members.

Because the city uses 45 meter reading routes and three billing cycles, some residents’ averages could be created using the tail end of December and the early days of March.

“But most people aren’t watering during the times bills are read for January and February,” Gourley said. “That was the fairest thing we could do.”

Fotovich said even with the billing change, there is still much room for improvement in the city’s utility billing procedures.

“There’s lots to be still fixed if you ask me,” he said. For example, he said utility rates should be clearly visible on all bills.

“Our utility bills show us usage amounts, but not the rates we pay water, electricity or sewer,” he said. “If you look at your Kansas Service Gas bill you’ll see that they show the actual amount you use as well as the rates they charge.”

In other business, city council members:

Hosted a work session to discuss strategic directions for the city.

Met in executive session to discuss specific personnel matters of non-elected personell.

Comments

  1. Just called city hall they had no idea what I was talking about and totally blew me off. Was just wondering if they will be doing a audit of all accounts or only the people that will complain will get on audit of there account.

  2. Just received my bill yesterday and sewer usage along cost me $130 on top of electric and water….that was a $94 increase from last month and previous months. Called the city and said the meter was read incorrectly because of the snow….seriously! We asked for another bill and they told my wife it would cost a fortune to re-print the bill, and said WE had to call back tomorrow to get the new amount….customer service at it’s best!

    This is not the first time I’ve had issues with my bill. They fail to notice any unusual usage on my bill before sending it out or even notifying me of it…just send the bill and hope I pay it without question. something has to be done ASAP.

  3. How Convenient for Larry and what a great article Danedri has put together touting this hero. Wolf in sheeps clothing?

  4. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    I find no mention in this article that “concerned citizen” Larry Fotovich was an unsuccessful candidate for Gardner mayor in 2009 and is currently a candidate for City Council in the April 2011 election. It will be interesting to see how many “news” articles in the Gardner News between now and April 5 will feature quotes from other “concerned citizens” who also happen to be candidates for elective office. I would have preferred reading Mr Fotovich’s remarks published in this newspaper as an Opinion piece, submitted by him and with him clearly identified as a candidate for city council.

  5. Rhonda Humble says:

    Jerry, you make a good point regarding Larry Fotovich’s candidacy. We did hold the story until the city council added it to their agenda specifically because he is a candidate. Perhaps we should have noted that; it was a judgment call. We elected not to call attention to his candidacy. If any of the other candidates have a similar situation, please have them contact our office. To me it seemed the point of the story was the incorrect billing and to inform residents to check their bills. As always Jerry, I appreciate your comments.

  6. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    Thank you for your response, Rhonda. I appreciate your explanation and encourage an editorial policy that includes full disclosure and strives to maintain the separation of news from opinion.

    I have no problem with the theme of this story, especially after recently reading of other municipalities confronting similar problems with the generally inexact science of meter reading and working with less-than-effective utility billing software. Gardner is not alone in trying to find better tools and methods for a more equitable billing of patrons for city services.

    Have a nice and warmer weekend.

  7. I cannot understand why Mr. Kellogg and another poster would bring politics into this article but I have seen much of this type of sniping in Gardner, especially involving the recall that was such a hate and lie scheme and those who thumb their nose at the law by ignoring the campaign finance laws.

    I would say it would be great if all candidates for office could be working to be concerned ciizens and public servants – then something perhaps worthwhile could be accomplished in the city of Gardner rather than the continued cronyism and status quo government that has been around for so long and which is bringing higher and higher tax bills and a huge city indebtedness.

    I invite each and every candidate for office to show me something that would encourage me to vote for them such as what Mr. Fotovich has been doing on these city utility billings. Even when a person is trying to do something to help their fellow man, there is a voice out there to criticize them – nothing good comes out of that in my opinion. I am surprised you would take that stance, Jerry, or anyone else but a person’s words, actions and inaction do say a lot about a person.

  8. Fotovich was worried about Fotovich’s wallet nothing more.

  9. What do you know. I actually agree with Judith. I don’t live in Gardner, but if Idid, Larry certainly improved his chances of getting my vote.

  10. Well Freddy thank goodness you don’t live in Gardner. We took care of the platform that Larry represented in the recall election and I hope that the voters learned there lesson. They did enough damage once, we surely won’t let them get another shot at it.

  11. Ecosto’s spelling skills tell you what you will get with his group – ignorance, hate and lies covers it pretty well – that is my opinion. It is very clear who and what brings about damage to a community.

    People like Ecosto don’t even want to know what a person’s platform is – they are into the snipe and backstabbing thru the anonymous route – cowards, the lot of you in my opinion.

    But we have freedom of speech, Ecosto, so keeping running your mouth. It tells all what you stand for.

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