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Ferndale City Hall (2019). File photo - My Ferndale News

City staff provide utility bill error timeline

FERNDALE, Wash. — In preparation for Wednesday’s Ferndale City Council Committee meetings, a timeline has been provided by city staff that goes to explain what led up to erroneous utility billing amounts on the recent February and April invoices.

To summarize (the complete timeline document is provided below),

  • modifications to the billing software were made to reflect the new rate system following the December 31, 2019 invoices being calculated and mailed
  • Friday, February 28th, February invoices are mailed
  • Friday, March 6th, February invoices were discovered to contain errors – the new sewer calculations were to be based on average water use during the previous year instead of actual water use during the billing period
  • City staff were informed by the billing software company they should have checked a box in the software setup to enable the sewer averaging
  • City staff, while acknowledging the missed step, pointed out there was another missed step that the billing software company did not inform them about
  • The city and the billing software company exchange communications to determine the extent and amount of the errors
  • City staff say the billing software company was not quick to respond on multiple occasions
  • City developed their own means of calculating the mount of corrections due in the absence of one being provided by the billing software company
  • On Wednesday, March 11th, City Finance Department staff informed “administration” of the February billing errors
  • City provides billing software company with data to be used to implement corrections on the April bills
  • Tests on the data by the billing software result in multiple errors – it isn’t until Tuesday, April 28th that a test is able to be run error-free
  • A change to sewer charges is made on Thursday, April 30th, the billing date for the April invoices
  • Tuesday, May 5th, Finance Department is made aware of balance forward amounts being added into the sewer charges instead appear as a separate line item on invoices for 328 customers

In explanation about why there was no communication to utility customers regarding the February errors, the document included in the council committee meeting packet went on to say,

Due to the uncertainty of whether Finance would be able to compile accurate data on affected accounts before April 30th, the decision was made to not notify the public before the bills were mailed. Once the final numbers were collected, a notification to all affected customers was not guaranteed to be delivered before the bills were.

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On May 5th, city staff published an announcement on their website acknowledging the errors and added, “But the bigger mistake was not including an explanation in the bills of this adjustment.” At the time, city staff estimated 50% of their approximately 5,000 utility customers used more or less water during the February billing period than the prior year average and were subsequently charged more or less than they should have based on that usage. 

The Finance & Administration Council Committee are scheduled to discuss the situation during their meeting at 9am on Wednesday, May 13th. Due to COVID-19 disease concerns, the meeting will be held online and can be attended by the public by clicking this link close to the start time or during the hour-long meeting. No software is needed since the meeting can be viewed via an internet browser and no login credentials are needed when viewing the meeting anonymously.

Timeline provided by city staff for the Finance & Administration Council Committee meeting:

COF-explanation-for-2020-Feb-utility-billing-snafu-2020-05-11

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3 Comments

  1. Gordon Thomas Gordon Thomas May 11, 2020

    This whole thing is nuts! You can’t charge people for water and services not rendered. As an example, let’s say I used more water last year and decided to be more conservative this year and I use less water. But you are going to charge me for Usage last year. You can’t do that! You only pay for what you get. Period al

  2. Amy Garza Amy Garza May 13, 2020

    I’d like to know what the rush was to get it on the April billing? Wouldn’t the right course of action be to slow down, give your accounting time to make sure the billing adjustments are accurate and then an explanation with June billing? At a time where people are forced with unemployment and layoffs, does the City not think that transparency, communication and the well being of the community should have been the top priority? Sacrifices, adjustments and concessions are being made across the board. Why does the City of Ferndale feel like they do not need to follow suit to the current economic situation? It would not have been a forgiveness of the debt, it would have been postponed until they could get it right.

  3. Alice Paul Alice Paul May 13, 2020

    Ahahha this just keeps getting better and better. It’s not the billing software company’s job to monitor a “Finance Department” else there would be no need for a Finance Department and the citizen’s to pay for it. Hence the word Finance Department Administrator. Which is what the Finance Director’s job is for especially when it comes to Auditing to get paid. The City blaming the company that has worked well for years until now by the new staff not clicking a button? Common.

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