Responses To Water Billing Issues Presented To Fort Smith Board, Utility Department To Offer Explanations

FORT SMITH, Ark. (TB&P) —The Fort Smith Board of Directors were told Tuesday (April 23) that many issues residents have with high bills since the first of the year have been resolved. The board addressed citizens’ concerns over unusually high water bills at the April 2 board of directors meeting.

Some water bills among the city’s 37,153 customers ballooned beyond the normal in the first quarter of the year as the city continued to install new meters, began using a new billing software system, and shifted the billing duties from the finance department to the utilities department. Those were just some of the “perfect storm” issues that happened at the same time to cause water bill errors, noted Director Robyn Dawson at the April 2 meeting.

Of the 1,253 adjusted bills since the billing storm began, 222 were billing errors, 298 were water meter reading errors, and 587 were leaks. Also, the new meters are on average 99% accurate, with the meters being replaced averaging 85% accuracy. Dawson’s response to the numbers cited by Utilities Director Jerry Walters and city Communications Manager Karen Santos was that water bills at most should be around 15% higher on average, adding that leaks, billing errors and other issues are “not going to make your bills double, or triple or quadruple.”

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In the coming days, the City of Fort Smith Utility Department Customers will receive a letter from the Utility Department providing insight on the challenges the department is experiencing since the system billing change in December 2018.

“Since the first of the year, employees from different departments have worked diligently to refine processes around the new system and are working persistently to provide excellent customer service,” said Joshua Robertson, Utility Department Deputy Director of Business Administration.  “All available resources have been utilized to harness the reality of the situation while working through the challenges of this implementation.  We sincerely apologize for any hardship this new system implementation has caused our consumers.  We will continue to work each individual customer inquiry or complaint on a path to resolution.”

As of Friday, April 19, there have been 1,813 bill adjustments completed including 714 customer leak adjustments.  A 5% total impact on the department's 37,253 customer account base.

The notice will include updates and details on Pay by Phone, Automatic Bank Draft, Water Usage Deviations, Billing Cycles, and customer contact information.  Along with the letter, customers will also receive a copy of the Utility Billing most frequently asked questions (FAQ).  The FAQ will provide information and education on some of our new processes.  A copy of the FAQ has been attached to this press release.

Fort Smith utility customers are being asked to email billing concerns so staff can thoroughly research the account before responding. The option to call is available Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

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