DPU Tackles Billing Issues

Customer Care Center representatives, from left, Maxine Montoya, Sonya Ortiz, Lisa Romero, Cindy Zerr, Tracey Alarid and Keisha Rivera. Photo by Julie Williams-Hill/LAC
 
 
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post 
kirsten@ladailypost.com 
 
Los Alamos County implemented a new operating software, MUNIS, in July. This change effected the entire County government, including the Department of Public Utilities, which has one of the largest interactions with the public.
 
As expected with all new software changeovers, there have been glitches. The biggest DPU has experienced is in its billing. Customers have noticed a number of issues from inconsistencies on water usage graphs to previous balances appearing on new bills.
 
These issues have left some customers scratching their heads. DPU Public Relations Manager Julie Williams-Hill said on a standard day, the Customer Care Center will field 80-100 calls.
 
But, DPU Manager Tim Glasco said, “We are getting three five times that.”
 
Still, customers are taking the right course of action. The DPU staff emphasized the best way to resolve billing issues is to contact DPU. The public can call the Customer Care Center at 662.8333, email CustomerCare@lacnm.us or visit the Municipal Building at 1000 Cental Ave., and speak to someone at a Customer Care desk.
 
Glasco emphasized that contacting the DPU is the best solution for any billing problem.
“We will work with every person who contacts us and we will explain what is happening and if necessary, we will fix it,” he said.
 
Williams-Hill agreed saying, “We do appreciate our customers calling because the only way to address issues is to speak one on one because every issue is unique. We really need to have one on one conversations.”
 
Glasco added that DPU staff really appreciates the community’s response to these billing issues.
 
“Every customer is really nice and sympathetic,” he said. “The citizens have been absolutely great and understanding.”
 
DPU Deputy Manager Bob Westervelt said the public is just asked to continue their patience while the issues get worked out. Issues that have appeared on utility bills include the way customers’ water usage is graphed in the chart at the bottom of the bill. The new system is graphing water usage in the thousands of gallons from data that is recorded in the hundreds of gallons. For example, the graph is depicting 160 hundred gallons (or 16,000 gallons) incorrectly as 160,000 gallons. 
 
As a result, customers will look at the bar graph on their bills and it looks like they have used an astronomical amount of water. Glasco pointed out that although the graph is incorrect, water charges on the bill are accurate.
 
Westervelt said DPU is working on getting the measurement units fixed on the water chart. He said that another problem some customers have seen on their bills is a previous balance. However, customers did not receive a bill for that past balance.
 
What occurred, Glasco explained, is that DPU realized certain areas in the County were not sent bills. As result, bills now reaching customers’ homes show the balance for the current billing cycle as well as a balance for the previous bill that was never sent.
 
Westervelt said customers are being sent documentation explaining the situation. They are still being billed for the normal billing period, he said.
 
Despite the conflicts in the billing schedule, Westervelt emphasized, “We feel comfortable that charges on the bills are accurate.”
 
Another issue facing not just DPU but other departments in the County is the response time to fix these glitches. Setbacks are being experienced in MUNIS across the local government because there are a limited number of technicians available to respond to work order requests submitted in every County department.
 
Besides encouraging the public to connect with DPU staff about issues, Williams-Hill said DPU is waiving all late fees. If a bill shows up and it is past due, don’t panic, she said.
 
“We’re not assessing any late fees,” Williams-Hill said.
 
Westervelt added, DPU acknowledges not everyone can afford to pay a bill that has a balance that includes charges for two months of service. If that is the case, he said DPU will work with the customer on a payment plan.
 
“We will work with people to make payments if they need to,” Westervelt said.
 
Once these issues get resolved, the County’s new operating system won’t be making any big impacts to customers’ bills. Glasco said while MUNIS offers numerous advantages for the County and the public, the system doesn’t offer any big features for billing. However, DPU does have some major projects in development including its mobile app and smart meters, for which the new system will be advantageous.
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