Pearland City Council approved a new tier structure for water billing at its April 13 regular meeting.
The approval of the tier structure enables city staff to implement the new 32/30 reading and billing cycle, Deputy City Manager Jon Branson said at the meeting.
The 32/30 system was presented by staff and chosen by council in an attempt to rectify a 60-day lag in utility billing first discussed by council in February. The new system will read meters on a 32-day cycle and bill residents every 30 days.
“We will update you along the way with that process and any issues that might come up,” Branson said.
The lag occurred after the city switched to a 28-day read cycle in 2018. Because of the lag, some citizens received two bills in a month, and a roughly $6 million gap in revenue for the city of Pearland was created.
The 32/30 billing cycle would resolve the financial issue by early 2023, staff said.
As the city is going from a 28-day read cycle to a 32-read cycle, the tier system approved April 13 is meant to keep residents from paying more in bills due to a reading change instead of because of a change in usage.
Some council members asked about the possibility of allowing interested residents to pay off their balance early, as the city is roughly 60 days behind in collecting bills. While Branson said he believes this option may be confusing to present to residents, staff will implement it as an option once the new AMI meters are installed.
Council members said they understood that there is both a policy issue and a trust issue at hand. The city has also updated policies so the same mistakes are not made again, Branson said.
“I get it. That doesn’t mean we have gained any trust. We’ve still got billing issues in March. We’ve had issue after issue. Yes, we may get a policy issue in place, but we’ve got a bigger issue in utility billing,” Council Member Tony Carbone said.
Council Member Gary Moore requested an audit of the system used in utility billing at the meeting. Other members agreed and requested that the city have an outside source conduct an investigation of the utility billing processes and systems.
“I am in favor [of] the 32/30 plan, but we I think we need to audit the system,” Moore said. “I don’t feel comfortable that the system is working for us.”
Branson said the city would provide updates at regular meetings on how the plan implementation is going.
The 32/30 plan passed, with Moore and Carbone voting against. It is scheduled to begin April 25.