Late bills have been customary at the Goleta Water District since it swapped electronic billing systems two years ago, but the wait should be over.
Now, 87 percent of the district’s customers should be completely caught up and receiving regular billing going forward, assistant general manager David Matson told Noozhawk.
Bills from December, January, February and March have been sent out within the last three weeks, he said.
The first transition to a new electronic billing system — in December 2012 — did not go well, and Matson said the district has been doing “a significant amount of technology fixes to the platform” ever since.
That didn’t work either, apparently, so the district switched to another system in January and February of this year. Customers have been extremely frustrated with the process and are still confused by the new bills, which has kept the district’s customer service department busy and forced it to bring on extra people.
As part of the transition, customers all were assigned new account numbers, which further complicated things, officials acknowledge.
The district used the same vendor, Phoenix-based Global Water Resources Inc., but ditched the new version of the software and went to the original, proven version, Matson said.
“It’s a known platform that we know is capable of successfully billing customers on a regular basis,” Matson said. “It can handle the particulars of meters being swapped out, pro-rating bills, and all the unique characteristics for utility billing.”
All customers were affected by that changeover, which is why they received three bills in the mail in a short period of time.
Even though the system seems to be working now, Matson said bills have been significantly delayed for about 13 percent of the district’s clients, most of them new customers who came into the system during its aborted implementation.
Susie Naughton, who moved into Goleta in July, told Noozhawk she has never received a water bill.
Every time she checks the status, by email or in person, she’s told there are billing vendor glitches, and to check back later.
“I can’t afford a $1,000 bill when they get around to figuring out the system and so that is why I started putting money toward this account so that it wouldn’t be such a huge hit when it finally happened,” she said.
There won’t be any late fees, Matson is quick to note, and the district will set up payment plans if customers have trouble paying all the bills when they finally show up.
The point of the new billing system was to add online features, like tracking water usage and electronic billing. So far, about 20 percent of customers are enrolled in e-billing and automatic payments, Matson said.
The invoicing disruption happened at about the time that the district declared a drought, which has impaired its ability to closely monitor water use. But Matson said the increased water use led customers to pay more money, which helped the district keep up its revenue even as so many customers went unbilled.
However, dry conditions made customers use more water – and pay more money – which helped the district get by while so many customers went un-billed, Matson said.
To get help with billing problems or to set up a payment plan, customers should visit the district office at 4699 Hollister Ave. or call 805.964.6761.