Danedri Thompson
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.