A whirlwind of complaints and speculation by Edmond residents following spikes in water bills last summer has led to an independent audit by Arledge & Associates regarding the integrity of the city’s practice of accounting for water utility bills. The audit indicates there were no systemic problems with the billing accuracy or software, but did suggest improved customer service.
“We understand the frustration that some of our customers had over the summer, and this outside audit was a key piece for us to determine how we can best serve the community in this area,” said City Manager Larry Stevens. “We were pleased to find there were no system errors in our billing process. Moving forward, we are excited about the implementation of smart meters and additional educational resources to help residents best manage personal water use for their household in real-time.”
The audit is meant to settle lingering questions the public might have about the accuracy of the city’s water billing standards. City Councilman David Chapman said his first obligation is to the citizens of Edmond. Chapman offered his take on the audit Friday morning after carefully examining the audit’s content.
“My opinion going into this was, I wanted a third-party opinion of the situation because I didn’t know,” Chapman said. “I simply did not know what I didn’t know.”
Now that Chapman has thoroughly read the report, he learned the audit does not show any systemic problems that that were detected. It does, however, address a need for improving customer service by the City of Edmond.
“We found that while the City has various procedures and call scripts, there is not a current, approved, comprehensive policy for dealing with customer complaints, including how to respond to an elevated number of complaints and when to bring the matter to the attention of the highest levels of management,” the report states.
The report also specified city policy needs to establish a policy to follow-up on customer complaints beyond a phone call to the city’s utility office. Chapman said the Edmond City Council is anxious to implement these improvements. Chapman believes the staff is improving its best practices in addressing consumer complaints.
He also said that he has no reason at this time not to be confident in the report. The Arledge audit was the first thing that needed to happen to gain a baseline, Chapman said.
“Is it the end of it? I hope it is. I don’t know that it will be,” Chapman said.
CITY’S REASON FOR
WATER BILL SPIKES
Not everyone in Edmond complained of water bill spikes during late summer 2019. But in September, members of the Edmond City Council heard from several residents seeking answers and solutions regarding their recent water bill spikes.
City Manager Larry Stevens said at that meeting the city would continue to answer any concerns residents have about individual bills.
“Yes, we do make mistakes,” Stevens said. “In reality we don’t make many, but when we find them we correct them and adjust the bills accordingly.”
Stevens pointed out that 56% of single-family residential customers used less than 10,000 gallons of water on the August billing cycle. Two-thirds of overall customers had a higher bill, Stevens said.
Outdoor water usage is the primary reason residents had water bill spikes, he said. May and June cumulatively resulted in nearly 27 inches of rainfall for residents. During these conditions, residents tend to have less water usage.
The average daily water production during May and June was about 8-10 million gallons per day. Edmond experienced dry weather in July. Dry conditions brought no relief for vegetation, so the city’s water production quickly increased to 20 million gallons per day — which is a critical benchmark for peak capacity capabilities.
Edmond had barely 1/10 an inch of rainfall during the 35-day period from July 4 to Aug. 7, Stevens said.
“So what that means is we had two very low usage months that were followed by a very high usage month,” Stevens explained, “which made the higher billing cycle even more pronounced.”
OF REPORT WILL COME
Chapman said coming days will gauge how accepting the public is of the report. But he does not know anything else the city could have done at this point in the conversation.
It will be important to continue monitoring water bills and every single issue that is brought to the city needs to be resolved, Chapman said.
“I think we’re doing what we could be expected to do right now,” Chapman said.
The report states that the city’s management is solely responsible for the accuracy of water billings. Arledge’s audit tested 50% of the residential accounts for which complaints were received.
The report states that when complaint levels increase in the summertime an appropriately informed employee from the City should attend the council meeting to help with any questions from customers regarding general billing and consumption.
Evaluation of 480 customer complaints revealed reasonable evaluation by identifying an increase of water usage over the prior year, the report states. This includes any change in rates, length of billing cycle, and average temperatures and rainfall for the spring and summer seasons of 2018-19.
All the commercial clients with complaints failed the reasonableness test, the report states. Resolved complaints by customers included a customer who was confused and mistakenly complained about a water bill instead of the electric bill, according to the audit. Another customer had a meter tested that registered accurately. No leakage was found.
Arledge & Associates also reviewed documentation for 12 residential customers representing the most extreme examples. They also selected a dozen customers living at their address for a year or more. Their water consumption had increased more than 60% from May-September.
According to the audit: “The customers were then evaluated further to see which months specifically increased from the prior year. Some customers were evaluated for multiple months increasing. Between the 12 customers 29 months were evaluated to see if the system correctly identified the consumption for the customer as exceeding their normal level. All consumption amounts above the threshold were correctly identified.”
City Councilman Nick Massey said on Friday he believes the audit clearly shows the city did not experience a systematic water billing failure last summer. The city can always do better in terms of monitoring problems, Massey said.
The full three-page report can be viewed at http://edmondwater.com. Click on “2019 Water Billing Audit Report” under the section titled “Quick Links”.