Electric bills still arriving late

Published 9:35 am Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Three months after the City of Franklin migrated its utility billing system to new computer software, numerous city residents are saying they still have yet to receive an electric bill on time. The issue was discussed during Monday’s City Council meeting after several council members said they had received complaints from their constituents.

According to City Manager R. Randy Martin, the city’s utility bills are typically mailed between the seventh and the 10th of each month, and are due by the 20th. For this month, that deadline has been extended to July 28.

Martin hopes to have the city’s billing back on track by August. However, Mayor Frank Rabil said that based on the concerns he was hearing from citizens, it appeared to him that the issues were even worse this month than the previous two.

“Did we anticipate that it would take us this long?” he asked Martin. “Quite frankly, I think it’s unacceptable.”

A Franklin resident who contacted The Tidewater News on July 20, but requested anonymity, would likely agree with Rabil’s assessment. He said that when he went to pay his bill in person at City Hall on July 17, the person working the customer service desk was unable to determine how much he owed.

In the two previous months, however, he said that information had been available.

Martin acknowledged that the city’s ability to provide utility customer service had suffered during the implementation of the new software and added that, at the time the software was first installed, the manufacturer had told the city’s billing staff that typically takes a 90-day cycle for people to get familiar with the new system.

“The vast majority of our customers have been very patient,” Martin said. “We had issues with late notices, some incorrect info was sent to customers who paid. We apologize to anyone who received an erroneous second notice or cutoff notice.”

He also said that the city is being as lenient as it can with late fees, and that the city is planning to have representatives of the software manufacturer on-site to provide additional technical support.

“We had already built into the budget money for training,” Martin said, adding that to his knowledge, no one has had power cut off due to these ongoing issues.

However, Councilman Greg McLemore objected to spending any additional city funds on the issue.

“So we are going to have to spend more money from our taxpayers to make a product work, that we’ve already bought, for it to perform,” he asked. “I thought this software was supposed to make things more efficient.”

Another issue the change in software has created is with residents who receive assistance from social services for heating and cooling costs.

“That’s always a challenge this time of year, and that will impact the next billing cycle, but we’re hoping it won’t delay us,” Martin said. “I’d rather take a little longer and do [everyone’s bills] to where we minimize the inaccuracies than sending out a half-baked batch of bills that end up causing more problems because they’re inaccurate.”

He added that utility bills for the current cycle had recently been mailed and that most customers could still come into city hall to pay in person successfully.