Raftelis Financial Consultants presented its review on the city of Pearland’s utility billing department at the City Council meeting Jan. 25. The report recommended continued changes to workplace culture, process improvements and technology improvements, including implementing its Advanced Meter Infrastructure, or AMI.

“Changing this culture is going to take time,” Raftelis Project Manager Seth Garrison said.

The consulting company did not find any proof of systemic billing issues, it said in the report, as its analysis determined that 98.5% of billing accounts were correct. However, the company worked under the assumption the meter reads were all correct, Garrison said.

Raftelis started its process in September. Garrison referred to the city’s billing issue as “unique,” as the lag in collecting money goes on for months at a time. However, he stated that the city has a high likelihood of collecting the money in arrears with the 32/30 plan, or the city's plan to collect the money owed due to the lag in billing. However, Raftelis’ report also states the city may want to change the 32/30 plan to “avoid further required readjustments and additional customer confusion.” According to the Garrison, the city still needs to collect around 65 days of bills, or roughly $5 million.

Raftelis has made observations, but more recommendations are to come to council from the ad hoc citizen committee as well. Once that is made, council has to decide how to continue to address the issue.

“I think it shows there a lot of issues: cultural issues, billing backlog, reliability of meters ... and then there is the trust,” Council Member Luke Orlando said. “We are going to try to solve the so-called problem, but really we have more than one problem.”

Michelle Ferguson, senior manager of organizational assessment at Raftelis, stated that starting with AMI will help solve the city’s billing issue as well. AMI should come online in late spring or early summer, according to the city of Pearland.

“Moving forward with AMI is really one of the critical steps in helping to create some of these solutions,” Ferguson said.

Council has to solve the billing issues, one at a time, as there is no “silver bullet” to fix issues with billing, Council Member Trent Perez said.

“We wouldn’t be talking about a silver bullet, we’d be talking about a silver buckshot,” Perez said. “[Raftelis] can only tell us how to process this effectively.”