Archive for Sunday, January 30, 2011

City utility bill ‘adjustment’ charge draws ire from Lawrence resident

Kelly Elsten has been arguing with the city over late fees on her utility bill. She was charged more than $40 in late fees over the last three years without realizing it. The city’s utility bills don’t have a charge that says late fee; instead, it is called an “adjustment.” Plus, she says her payments haven’t been late. Elsten is pictured in her home with her son Jack, 6.

Kelly Elsten has been arguing with the city over late fees on her utility bill. She was charged more than $40 in late fees over the last three years without realizing it. The city’s utility bills don’t have a charge that says late fee; instead, it is called an “adjustment.” Plus, she says her payments haven’t been late. Elsten is pictured in her home with her son Jack, 6.

January 30, 2011

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Kelly Elsten thinks there’s something odd with the city utility bills she and other Lawrence residents pay. And she thinks she’s found out about it the hard way.

By at least one measurement, she’s correct. After asked by the Journal-World, the city’s utility billing division determined that about 30 percent of all Lawrence utility bills have a late fee attached to them. That is more than two to three times higher than several other utilities.

Ed Mullins, who oversees the utility billing operations as the city’s director of finance, said the Lawrence numbers were eye-opening.

“It did seem high to me,” Mullins said. “I was surprised by that.”

Finding an industrywide average has been difficult, but the Journal-World confirmed the city of Manhattan has late fees on only about 10 percent of its bills. The Board of Public Utilities, which provides electric and water service to parts of Kansas City, Kan., averages 17 percent. Douglas County-based Rural Water District No. 4 has an average of 7 percent.

Elsten has a theory about Lawrence’s high numbers: Many Lawrence residents don’t know they’re paying a late fee.

‘A late fee is a late fee’

Elsten wasn’t quite sure what she thought the word “adjustment” meant on her city utility bill.

After all, the bill is for water, sewer and trash service. That trifecta probably isn’t an exact science. The water part involves reading a meter that spins around like an antique clock, and the sewer and trash, well, nobody wants to spend time thinking about sewer and trash.

But in October, Elsten’s city utility bill was messed up like bills sometimes get. It was showing an amount that looked too high, so she called the city. When she called, she wasn’t particularly concerned about the adjustment. It only amounted to a dollar or some change most months.

Then, she learned what it was. In the world of Lawrence city utility bills, the word “adjustment” means a late fee.

“I was livid,” Elsten said. “It is very unethical and misleading to have a customer pay a late fee under the name of an adjustment. A late fee is a late fee and an adjustment is an adjustment.”

Mullins said the city’s use of the term adjustment to describe a late fee isn’t ideal, but he doesn’t believe it is misleading to most people.

“I think it is pretty clear to most people that it is a late fee,” Mullins said.

But the city is hoping to change the wording in the future. Cindy Naff, the city’s customer service supervisor, said the department’s current billing system doesn’t allow for the word ‘adjustment’ to be changed to late fee without reprogramming the system. The city doesn’t own the system, but rather operates it under a license agreement and thus can’t reprogram it. But the department is hopeful of getting new billing software, perhaps by the end of the year, that would allow for the change.

Mullins, though, said he’s still unsure why somebody would pay an “adjustment” on a bill without knowing what it is.

“I think it is pretty common that if you see an ‘adjustment’ on your bill, and you don’t know what it is, you’re going to ask about it,” Mullins said

Three years of late fees

If Elsten — who has lived in Lawrence for 18 years — is any indication, not everybody does. By the time Elsten figured out what an adjustment was, she had paid three straight years worth of them.

Every month since 2007, Elsten had unknowingly been paying a 2 percent late fee. A simple solution, of course, is to pay your bill on time.

And that brings Elsten to the second part of her theory about the city’s late fees: People are getting charged a late fee when they shouldn’t.

Elsten insists that she’s been paying her city utility bill on time — and she points to documentation from an online bill paying system that she uses with US Bank.

Elsten says — and bank officials agree — that she initiated her city utility bill payment in a timely manner. Elsten admits that she designed her bill-paying strategy to have the money taken out of her account on the actual due date, but she contends she always gave the bank at least four business days prior to the due date to complete the transaction. The bank agrees with that assertion.

Because of a technical glitch that has since been corrected, US Bank was creating an actual paper check to send to the city each month. The check would be dated to be cashed on the bill’s due date, but the bank insists it was sent four business days in advance. The U.S. Postal Service estimates the average delivery time for first-class mail to be one to three business days.

The city, though, says it simply wasn’t getting the check by the due date.

“There’s no way for us to verify when that check was sent,” Mullins said. “We just know when we got it, and it wasn’t by the due date.”

US Bank uses an out-of-state contractor to process and mail the checks. The company mails in such volume that it uses a special category of first-class mail called “presorted first class.” The envelopes the checks are mailed in do not have a standard stamp, and also do not have a standard postmark showing when they were entered into the system. A spokeswoman at the Lawrence post office, said it would be difficult to determine when the check was actually mailed.

Terri Kaase, a manager for US Bank who oversees the online bill-paying system, said she’s confident the contractor was mailing the checks in a timely manner. She was seeking written verification of that at press time, but she said the company does thousands upon thousands of checks and that a problem with late mailings would have been spotted quickly.

“For the most part, the number of complaints we get of this nature are few and far between,” Kaase said.

$187,000 in late fees

Even if Elsten’s check is the one rare check that happens to get lost in the system, that doesn’t explain why the percentage of Lawrence bills with a late fee appears to be significantly higher than several other utilities.

Elsten has her theory about that too. She thinks the city’s utility billing staff gets swamped with checks near the due date and just does not get them entered into the system in a timely manner.

Mullins flatly disagrees with that. He said his staff processes checks the day it receives them. He said checks sent from these bill-paying systems often are more difficult to process because they don’t come with a return bill stub, and often the account number on the check is not entirely accurate. That means the staff has to look the account up by name, but Mullins said the city wouldn’t use that as a reason to levy a late fee.

“If for some reason we wouldn’t get to it until the next day, we would trick the computer to make it think we were entering it on its due date,” Mullins said.

Elsten even has wondered whether the city has a financial incentive to keep the late fee totals high. Mullins said that’s not the case either. In 2010, the city collected $187,947 in late fees through its utility operations.

“I realize that $187,000 is still a good amount of money, but it is nothing to run a utility on,” Mullins said.

The city collects about $30 million in fees through its utility each year. He said the city from a cash flow management standpoint has a much greater incentive to get the money that is due in a timely manner than it does to collect a relatively small amount in late fees.

“We would be much happier if everybody paid their bill on time than having 30 percent not paying it on time,” Mullins said.

In fact, Mullins said the high numbers have him wondering whether the city is providing enough of a disincentive for people to pay their bill late. The city currently charges a 2 percent late fee. That means on a $40 bill, the late fee will be 80 cents. That penalty is lower than in some cities. Manhattan, which deals with a similar college population and has only 10 percent of its bills with late fees, charges a flat $25 penalty for being late.

“Maybe our 2 percent is not enough to get people to pay on time,” Mullins said.

That won’t be the answer Elsten wants to hear. She’s been made financially whole from all this — the bank credited her account about $43 to cover the three years worth of late fees — but she still thinks the city has problems with its billing system.

“I just think it is misleading,” Elsten said. “They’re not telling you that it is late. They are telling you that it is an adjustment, and that could be anything. But the big thing is, I think there are a lot of them that aren’t late.”

Comments

BrianR 4 years, 2 months ago

I'll have to go through my stack of files and see if the City of Lawrence needs "adjusted."

Terry Jacobsen 4 years, 2 months ago

I understand this persons frustration. I think they should fix their billing to be clear. But I know Cindy naff and several other workers down there and they are hard working honest people who would not knowingly be ripping people off. My bet is on the mailhouse for the bank or the postal service. The fact is all of those mailings have to be registered with the lost office when they are mailed and it is quite easy to verify their mailing date. Paperwork is documented, recorded and made available by the post office online for large customers like this mailing house.

conservative 4 years, 2 months ago

Yes the cityshould fix the billing so that it is clear. And lets be honest the wording doesn't have to wait for new software, if they contact the owner of the software it would be an easy programming fix that i'm sure they'd be willing to do. I have not always been impressed with the Lawrence utility department. A couple of years ago i dropped my check and stub in the drop box at city hall, the utility department said it never arrived. The next month i paid both months plus the adjustment. 4 months later the check finally went through, the city had no explanation on why they cashed a check that late and they didn't credit my account for the late fee i had paid.

jmadison 4 years, 2 months ago

Another scam by government. Their excuse that it would take a reprogramming of their billing would not fly if a private business billed in a similar misleading fashion.

BigPrune 4 years, 2 months ago

"Mullins said the city’s use of the term adjustment to describe a late fee isn’t ideal, but he doesn’t believe it is misleading to most people.

“I think it is pretty clear to most people that it is a late fee,” Mullins said."

..........yeah right, that's the ticket.

sherbert 4 years, 2 months ago

It is absolutely misleading. I would never think an adjustment was a late fee. I would think the same thing Kelly Elston thought, that it was an adjustment!

jafs 4 years, 2 months ago

I would probably call to find out what it was.

parrothead8 4 years, 2 months ago

The government doesn't run hospitals. Nice try, though.

aa469285 4 years, 2 months ago

Except for those VA hospitals. But who cares about them they're not really hospitals right?

BigPrune 4 years, 2 months ago

..........and if enough people complain about this misleading as hell "adjustment," then the City will start assessing $25 late fees instead, at least that's what I got from this article.

Nice reporting job, btw, very informative.

ddayot 4 years, 2 months ago

It would take less ink to print "late fee", if that is what it truly is, rather than "adjustment". How many staff member's salaries are paid with $188,000?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 2 months ago

I doubt that there is any evil intent on the city's part, but now that the problem has been pointed out, they should immediately begin calling it a late fee, since that's what it is.

I figured this out a while back because I had been putting my payment in the outside drop box in front of city hall on the due date. If it's put in there towards the end of the day, it's not going to be credited on that day, and an "adjustment fee" will be charged.

So if you are paying on the due date, don't use that drop box out front. Take it inside if you don't want to be hit with an "adjustment fee."

BigPrune 4 years, 2 months ago

Don't you think one of the City's attorneys had to okay the word "adjustment" instead of "late fee?"

Thinking_Out_Loud 4 years, 2 months ago

Really? Wow! I've been using that box for years. I guess I need to start going through my bill history, too.

I'm somewhat concerned that the city's computer system can easily be "tricked," too. Seems like a potential security problem.

I am in agreement that every city employee I know is honest and of high integrity. Just wish someone had made the "adjustment" name more transparent.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 2 months ago

I'm not sure when they pull payments out of that box. But clearly, they sometimes don't do so later in the day, or if they do, they aren't processed until the next day.

So if you want to make sure it's credited by or before the due date, put it in the drop box the day before, or take it inside.

independent_rebel 4 years, 2 months ago

I've put payments in that box, and it CLEARLY states that it won't be processed for that day's date.

Maybe that is why I don't get late fees. I actually read.

repaste 4 years, 2 months ago

So "green" "paperless" billing equals paying someone else to write the check? With that system more paper is used, much more.

Kelly Johnson 4 years, 2 months ago

"Paperless billing" is when the company sends your billing statement via email or you access it online. This does actually save paper.

"Online bill pay" is using a service to have someone else write a check, although in some cases the companies you pay have set up a way that your payment is processed electronically through the bank's bill payment center. Not sure how much paper is saved, if any, with this method.

persevering_gal 4 years, 2 months ago

“I think it is pretty clear to most people that it is a late fee,” Mullins said.

Obviously 30% of those who pay utilities don't see it as clearly as you do, Mr. Mullins.

A rough estimate: if Lawrence's population is 92,048, lets take away about 40,000 due to sharing bills (married, roommates, college students, etc.), and another 20,000 for those ages 0-19 who don't pay bills (2000 census). Again, a very rough estimate. That leaves about 32,000, give or take, that pay bills which leaves us at about 9,600 that don't understand it. Heck, I'll be nice and remove another 10,000, but that still leaves us at about 6,600 of bill payers who don't understand it.

Perhaps if you flat out put "late fee" on the bill, then the 30% may be knocked down to 10-15% (which would be the people who actually know they aren't paying on time due to whatever personal reason or for those who just don't care). I always thought an adjusted fee was an increase that involved the entire city.

sallyone 4 years, 2 months ago

The city hosed me on this one too, I was paying via us bank billpay and had it set up to be paid on the due date and when I noticed that I had been receiving adjustments for some time I called the city to conplain and they said that if I paid on the due date that they would not have time to get it processed and when I told them I wasn't going to pay their 'adjustment' they blackmailed me into paying it by telling me that they would shut off my water if I didn't pay it. This is a honest to god true story, happened about 3 years ago. So I am sure that many people are receiving 'late fees' because they have their payments setup through their banks and don't even look at their bills very closely, I know I didnt . It's quite the little racket the city has going here, $188000, unbelievible!

jafs 4 years, 2 months ago

That sounds very unlikely.

A "due date" means the date on/by which you have to pay in order to not get a late fee - how can they claim if you pay on that day, you get one?

If the bank is sending checks out on that day, though, the city won't get them until later - perhaps that's what happened.

Thinking_Out_Loud 4 years, 2 months ago

I've heard of this before, 5 or 10 years ago. "Due date" means your payment has to be processed, and the check clears, on or before that date. If the check hasn't cleared yet, you aren't considered to have paid. But I've only heard of it from friends in larger cities, and they were talking about private companies--cable and phone, if I recall. I hadn't heard of that happening here.

jafs 4 years, 2 months ago

None of our bills work that way, public or private.

The due date is the date by which they have to receive the check.

Otherwise, they should inform people that they have to get the check in 3-4 business days earlier.

Sounds like a little scam to me.

Kelly Johnson 4 years, 2 months ago

It sounds like there's a discrepency in scheduling with online bill payment options.

Some banks have you select the date you want the payment initiated, while others have you select the actual due date of the bill and they initiate payment prior to that so the payment arrives on time.

My bank tells me which day the money comes out of my account AND which day the payment will be received by the company.

I have had automatic draft set up on all my utilities for several years now, which is different than online bill pay. Automatic draft is an agreement between the utility company and yourself that they can debit your bank account for the amount due on the due date. Works better than online bill pay because it takes out the uncertainty of that due date vs. payment date issue.

Kendall Simmons 4 years, 2 months ago

Westar bills now say "$x if by x date; $y if after y date"...which tells us when they consider the bill late. That's the type of useful info people need.

By the way, I also agree with most people who have thought that 'adjustment fees' were not the same thing as late fees.

After all, other utilities charge rate adjustments off and on fairly regularly...because of things like changing fuel prices...and the the water department is a utility and their bills are utility bills.

(And, frankly, I think someone in charge needs to tell Mullins to stop copping an attitude.)

roggy 4 years, 2 months ago

Great article! I pay my bills online by US Bank also so the first thing I did was check my past bills to see if I had an adjustment. Thankfully, I did not. (at least in the last 6 months) I would never have thought an adjustment was a late fee.

Thinking_Out_Loud 4 years, 2 months ago

Wal-Mart can do it because that is a mult-billion dollar retail corporation with thousands of points-of-sale. The economy of scale creates massive cost savings for the company. I doubt that the two points-of-bill-payment in City Hall would cause such a system to pay for itself.

The real question is why one would expect the city to keep up with the bleeding edge of technnology (which requires a significant capital investment) on one hand while opposing taxes and other city fees on the other (the means for the city to raise said capital).

jafs 4 years, 2 months ago

The old fashioned system of writing a check and putting it in the mail 4 days or so before the due date has always worked for us.

It sounds to me as though the automatic bill payment services through banks aren't great.

SnakeFist 4 years, 2 months ago

I agree. Write your own check and it'll be done right and get there on time.

lionheart72661 4 years, 2 months ago

Well look on your bill and notice that your water usage is lower than the sewer rates! I called and asked about that. It is a laugh when they explain it to you. Not the employees fault it's those YAHOOS in upper management that make the decisions. It costs more to have your water run into a big sewer pipe to a treatment plant and recycle it. So since we are getting recycled water it should be much cheaper than what we are paying now!

LadyJ 4 years, 2 months ago

Sewer rate is set by water usage during Dec, Jan, and Feb. Use as little water during those months as possible and it will keep your rate lower for a year. Good time to make sure there are no faucets dripping or toilets leaking. If you did have a problem during on of those months, call them and they will use March instead.

jafs 4 years, 2 months ago

LadyJ is correct.

The idea is not to charge people sewer charges for water they use to water the yard.

Of course, for those of us that don't do that, the system makes less sense, and in fact if you use more water for laundry during the winter months, you'll pay more for sewer charges than are warranted other months.

I've asked the city to simply charge us for our actual usage, but they won't do that.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

The problem is at the management level whereby decisions are made not at the "worker bee" level.

Adjustment Fee should be called what it is - LATE FEE and stop the nonsense.

Could it be that the city OWES its' ratepayers?

The same thing occurs on bank statements = what exactly are those fees?

Considering the hassles between bank pay out and mail arrival perhaps it is best to pay around the first of every month. Banks like to keep/use your money as long as they can.

As I said let's not play games. Is it a late fee or is it a late fee?

How in the world would ratepayers assume an adjustment fee is a late fee?

parrothead8 4 years, 2 months ago

Plain and simple, the city is wrong. "Adjustment" fee does not equal "late" fee, in the minds of most. It would be interesting to see the LJW ask this as an On the Street question, right there on Mass St near the bill drop-off.

Thinking_Out_Loud 4 years, 2 months ago

The use of the word "adjustment" is not transparent. That is, indeed, a problem.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

Are some suggesting that the City of Lawrence has become a "for profit" venture?

In reality the less ratepayers use the less they should pay. Why? Because low users are demanding fewer services from our city and county government.

Conservation should be rewarded with user fee rebates annually.

sphinx 4 years, 2 months ago

You think Lawrence is ripping YOU off? LOL...come to Baldwin where they charge you 3X as much as you pay in Lawrence for Lawrence water. Late fee? Yeah we have those too! But it's at a rate of 10% not 2% of your bill. You'll think $40 over a 3 year period is cheap!

From the article from LJW City’s high prices driving away some rural water districts 11/09 http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2009/nov... "The wholesale water rates that the city charges to the two groups (Baldwin, Douglas Country Rural Water District no.4) increased by 16 percent in 2009 and will increase by nearly 18 percent in 2010. The wholesale rates for the past two years have been increasing at a rate that is more than double the normal increases that Lawrence residents have experienced for their water bills.

Chris Ogle 4 years, 2 months ago

“I think it is pretty clear to most people that it is a late fee,” Mullins said.

me thinks he simply got caught.

Flap Doodle 4 years, 2 months ago

"i have decided to leave the forum. goodbye. i am signing out. SVEN January 29, 2011" Well, we see how long that lasted.

George Lippencott 4 years, 2 months ago

Couple of thoughts

  1. Sometimes "just in time is not just in time". You need to know how it is processed or it may bite you, as it appears to have done in this case

  2. The city offers a service to direct charge your bank account. Couple it with e-mail billing and it saves paper and processing time. You cannot be late as they take the action to get the funds due them.

  3. 30% delinquency suggests that there is a problem. I think the city should look into its practices to make sure it is not on the city’s end. If not raise the late fee.

George Lippencott 4 years, 2 months ago

Now we all know I am no fan of our city leaders but I have been paying this way for I think eight years and there has been absolutley no problem. Exactly what has Mr. Mullins done to deserve your wrath?

pfunk81 4 years, 2 months ago

Utilities screwing their customers? Say it ain't so!

Jonathan Kealing 4 years, 2 months ago

I got hit by the adjustment hitch over about six of nine months ending in the fall. It was most confusing because the city sometimes uses the adjustment area to issue credits for a change in prior billing. I've seen that at least once.

We use Bank of America's online bill pay, which lets you pick which date you want the bill to be delivered to the city. When we chose the day the bill was due, or the day before, about 50% of the time we incurred this adjustment. It wasn't until I went online to look for more information that I discovered that an adjustment is actually a late fee.

When we called the city, and the bank, we were able to get the city to issue us a refund for a couple of months of the so-called adjustments and the bank, which guarantees that bills paid via online bill pay are received on time, reimbursed us the remainder.

Kendall Simmons 4 years, 2 months ago

When we bought our single family home in 1983, we paid our bill faithfully every month. Then the city changed its billing format and provided codes and, for some reason (it was a long time ago - it might have been an article like this) we checked out the code...and discovered that we'd been being billed as a two-family home for years!!

Well, needless to say, we immediately talked to the water department. We had to argue to get any refund whatsoever, even though we'd been overcharged for years. The city's argument? Yup. "You should have read your bill and contacted us if you had any questions".

Well, why on earth would we have questions when there was nothing on the bill for us to question? We bought a single family home. It was a single family home when we bought it. Why would we think we were not being billed as a single family home?

Finally, after much effort, we got a refund for 3 months of overpayments...which was credited to our account.

It sure sounds like the water department's attitude hasn't changed a bit in the last 20+ years.

pace 4 years, 2 months ago

The city has a chronic problem of assuming the customer is always wrong. All departments. Mullen's response of maybe we should raise the "adjustment" fee, is so Ed, counter what he considers criticism with not so veiled threat. What he should be doing is getting off his rear and actually going down stairs and seeing it himself. A few days of front line would tell him more than his imagination or suppositions. He also should compare how fast water is turned off compared to other utilities and if his return of service fees are out of line. Or is it , every extra dollar we can get is fair, buyer beware.

nekansan 4 years, 2 months ago

I've heard reports from MANY that the city often fails to process payments that are received late in the day either in their PO Box or in their drop-box outside the utility department. They are in clear and plain violation of Federal law that states payment must be credited on the day they are received. http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre16.shtm

I am also a US Bank customer and use their billing system, they process most payments electronically. Those that can't be processed electronically have a check cut and mailed 3-4 days in advance of the payment date the sender requests. The article spelled this out, and I have NEVER had an instance where another payer didn't receive payment in a timely manner. Yet the City of Lawrence has a chronic problem receiving timely payments? It is extremely clear to me that the problem here lies with the City.

I find it particularly interesting that the city, who banks at US Bank can't seem to manage to receive electronic payments from them. I'm sure the city will claim ignorance, but US Bank has to be one of, if not the largest quantity of payments being received by the city. Don't you think someone would notice all the physical checks cut by US Bank and try and figure out the reason they could not be electronically processed? That is unless they are more interested in the job security for the billing department that an additional $180k in revenue provides. It might be time for a serious look at outsourcing the entire utility billing process to a 3rd party that can provide better service and perhaps lower cost.

sallyone 4 years, 2 months ago

Yes, I agree, Lawrence is the only utility that I have ever had any problems with in paying. Every other one always receives their payments without any problems.

valgrlku 4 years, 2 months ago

@nekansan - I tried to use that federal law's regulations with the City's Water Dept. years ago, when my bill(s) was late. I would (still do) mail in my bill from here in town at least 2-3 days before the due date, and about 80% of the time, it's "late." Unfortunately, this has been happening for at least ten years.

I called the City to complain, because they can also charge you an additional "deposit" of $40 (bringing the total to $80), which is what prompted my call. I was told that my payments had been late, and when I asked if they considered the post-marked date as date of payment, I was told "No, we post your payment when we get it." I argued over and over that my payments were mailed on time. How was I supposed to control how fast/slow the mail gets there and whether or not an employee posts my payment "on time?" I facetiously asked if I was just supposed to take their word for it, and that answer was, "Yes, your other alternative is to bring your bill to the department, and do it right there on time."

I was also furious about the additional deposit. I asked when I would get my deposit back and was told, "Never, unless your bill is on time EVERY MONTH for a full calendar year." To which I replied, "So... if my bill is 'late' once in a year, you can keep my deposits until I move or die?" The answer was, "Yes."

Maybe those deposits have something to do with this issue as well... I'm not even sure if they pay us interest on the deposits like other utilities do. Anyone remember? I wonder how much interest the city is making off of these deposits.

56_Kruiser 4 years, 2 months ago

I too discovered that they were charging 'adjustments', which I had been ignoring, for years.

I pay electronically also. I validated through my bank that they were paying on time. I pay all my bills this way, and Lawrence Utility is the only one who says 'it is late'. I did talk with someone in there, and the electronic ones don't get validated to the account until the next day, so it shows as late.

I thought about contacting the Journal World about this, but figured nothing would come of it.

I now pay a day early so that I don't get the charge.

I suspect ANYONE paying electronically is getting this charge, even though it is received by the city on time.

fuel_for_the_fire 4 years, 2 months ago

I just went through the last 3 years of my Lawrence utility bills and discovered that I have been charged the adjustment fee every single month except for the most current billing cycle. My bank electronically transfers funds from my account to the city of Lawrence and I have documentation that funds were transferred on the day the bill was due for every single month that I have been charged an adjustment.

Should I have paid closer attention to my bill? Yes, without question, and Mr. Mullens can argue that ultimately the fault is mine. This must be how he defines being "...committed to providing excellent city services" as it states on my bill. This is not an issue with the bank. This is an issue with the city's billing department and I can't wait for them to explain why I have been charged a late fee when I have proof that the city received payment on time.

independent_rebel 4 years, 2 months ago

I tried paying online through my bank as I do Westar, and the same thing happened. However, I took personal responsiblity to see what happened. Here is what I learned. When you and I pay online through our bank electronically, the bank will either a) issue a paper bill and mail it to the entity we pay, or, b) electronically send the payment to the entity.

Here is where the problem lies. Most companies, and I discovered the city is one of them, use a third-party vendor that will act as a go-between. What happens is that we set up our payment for such and such date, our bank then sends it to the third-party vendor, that third party vendor will verify customer number recognition, and then send that payment to the company. That company will then have to upload those payments.

That takes time, and a large company such as insurance companies will upload those payments several times a day from the vendor. It costs money and manpower to do this. I would guess that a city the size of Lawrence doesn't upload this information but a few times a day. So even if your bank can prove it sent the payment to the city or to any company, it doesn't mean the place you are sending it to has received it.

That is just the facts of online billpayment transactions. It is also why most banks and companies clearly state on their websites to allow for 3 days processing time. One or two days is not enough.

Katara 4 years, 2 months ago

This is true. I had a similar issue with another company. The company's rep could not figure it out & after a lot of digging around, she gave me a call back & told me exactly what you posted. It seems to be fairly common. ~~~~~~~~~ Adjustment is an accurate term in that, since the bill was paid late, your bill is now being adjusted to reflect a late charge. It is just not a clear term and that is a problem. Bills should be clear as to what you are being charged for.

Do credits given show as an adjustment? Or are they labeled "credit"?

nekansan 4 years, 2 months ago

A big point of this article however is that the bill never indicates a "Late Fee" simply an adjustment which could appear on any bill. Had your bill continually shown a late fee I suspect that at some point in the past few years it might have prompted a call to inquire with the city.

The billing department I suspect can expect a lot of angry phone calls come Monday.....

Munsoned 4 years, 2 months ago

Mullens is ALL about earning interest. It is all but certain that "deposit" monies accrue interest, as do "adjustment" fees. He absolutely got caught and gave a shoddy answer. Yes, where IS that auditor? Is there no 3rd party audit of the books over there?

George Lippencott 4 years, 2 months ago

Sounds like point 3 needs to be looked at more closely. Lawgivers, if you monitor thais reflector maybe you should think about that?

friendlyjhawk 4 years, 2 months ago

$187,000.00 sounds like a goodly amount to me! Just another way for the city to collect extra money. Being vague about an "adjustment" fee makes this sum (which Mullins seems to think is nothing to the utility) sound like a form of "ticket fraud." While collar crime is so very popular in Lawrence right now!

Curtis Lange 4 years, 2 months ago

Interesting. Time to go back through and see if I have any ludicrous 'adjustment' on my bills...since each and every one has been on time thanks to setting up e-Pay THROUGH the city's site...

Curtis Lange 4 years, 2 months ago

After looking, no adjustment fees...thank God. However, I do agree that the term 'adjustment' does not and should not equal 'late fee.'

sr80 4 years, 2 months ago

only some bureaucratic a** could come up with "i would assume people would know what a adjustment meant".good going mullens your a champ!!

cummingshawk 4 years, 2 months ago

American Heritage dictionary defines adjustment;

ad·just·ment

NOUN:

1.- The act of adjusting or the state of being adjusted. 2.- A means of adjusting. 3.- Settlement of a debt or claim. 4.- A modification, fluctuation, or correction: e.g.-made an adjustment on the telephone bill; an adjustment in the consumer price index.

Odd, no mention of a late fee. Murky details escape attention of the water department spokesperson. In other words, we'll call it what we want until challenged, and all of you are wrong anyway, unless you can prove otherwise.

cowboy 4 years, 2 months ago

Mullins typical response . This is the same guy who ten years or so ago , when the water department doubled deposits stated " People should be thankful as they now have a savings account " or something very close to it. I have had these charges on my bills also and honestly don't look at them close enough , nor is it a large enough amount to be significant. But... the fact the city has attempted to cheat the citizens by hiding this charge is pathetic. The city should "put on your man pants" and delete these charges , and rebate all customers who have incurred these costs. Misrepresentation is not the way the city should do business.

nekansan 4 years, 2 months ago

Just stumbled across this..... Looks like the city is required to pay interest to the individuals making a deposit for services. Might want to look back over those bills to see if the city has been meeting their statutory obligation..... If not, if might be time to demand a Late Fee (adjustment) from the city for interest due. Mullins seems to think 2% is not a significant enough late fee so I'd suggest simply adding whatever he believes is sufficient to to the "adjustment" the depositors are owed.

http://kansasstatutes.lesterama.org/Chapter_12/Article_8/12-822.html

"It shall be unlawful for any public or municipally owned utility doing business in the state of Kansas to receive or collect a deposit from any customer as security for the payment of bills for service rendered, unless such public or municipally owned utility shall keep a separate account of the date on which such deposit is received, the name of the depositor, and the amount thereof, and shall pay to the customer making the deposit interest at the rate determined by the state corporation commission."

Katara 4 years, 2 months ago

The interest is paid when the deposit is refunded. The phone company used to do the same thing when they collected deposits for new service.

Hoots 4 years, 2 months ago

Once again...dishonesty from government. Go fugure. I bet the number the city gave the LJ World for what they have collected is a fraction of the true number. This isn't the first time the city has charged people or companies in a dishonest way.

sallyone 4 years, 2 months ago

Lawrence is the only utility that I have ever had any problems with in paying online. Every other one always receives their payments without any problems.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

Is there an "adjustment" charge for paying electronically?

There is if paying by debit card or credit card.

may need some investigating?

nekansan 4 years, 2 months ago

That's not how I read the law....

" Such interest shall be credited once a year or credited on January 1 succeeding such deposit and on each January 1 thereafter, to such customer's outstanding account, unless, prior to January 1, such customer shall request the payment of such interest in cash, in which event payment of interest shall be made as requested. Any interest credited shall be subject to call and payment at any time, but shall not draw interest."

This means the city must credit the interest on an annual basis. If not, it absolutely gives you a right to demand a payment on an annual basis. Might be a great way to voice your disapproval of the city's payment processing policy.

valgrlku 4 years, 2 months ago

I have noticed this yearly interest payment from our other utilities but never from the city. I thought it was strange, but then again, I also think that keeping one's deposit forever doesn't seem standard either.

I'm sure I've been late here and there with my other utilities (read: a day or two like the city claims keeps one from the refund, not weeks or months), but my deposits for those were refunded (without my dying or moving away).

Something seems terribly amiss here, and I hope some oversight straightens it all out. Transparency in practice and policy is warranted, I think.

Katara 4 years, 2 months ago

From one of the previous posts, you have to be one year delinquent payment free & then the deposit (plus whatever interest) is refunded back to you on your bill. If your account is closed out, the deposit is applied to any outstanding balance and if there is credit left over, you get a check. Some companies have grace periods for their bills so that could be why you were not penalized. City of Lawrence apparently does not have one.

I still am wondering if they are interpreting the law the same as the phone company - the interest accrues & when the deposit is refunded, all the accrued interest is paid to you too.

According to the back of the bill, deposits are only applied to all renting accounts that are late more than two times in a year. I have no idea if that is a common thing that occurs or not though.

Katara 4 years, 2 months ago

Sooooo... has anyone flipped the paper bill over to take a gander?

'Cause it discloses a lot of information about payments.

Under payment instructions and payments options: "Mail your payment in the return envelope along with the bottom portion of the bill. Please allow at least 3 days for processing."

Under payment options: "Drop boxes are available at Dillon's, Hy-Vee (Clinton Pkwy), Checkers and Downtown between City Hall and Riverfront Plaza. Please allow up to 3 business days for processing."

Under other pertinent information: "Your bill is due and payable on the billing date and is delinquent after the due date. [in bold letters] Penalties are charged on the basis of when payments are received, not when they are mailed."

It is pretty clearly spelled out if you take the time to review your statement.

BigPrune 4 years, 2 months ago

I wonder if the person who decided to mislead the public with the word "adjustment" is also the same person who decided to include the "vote for the $18,000,000 boondoggle library" propaganda?

wikipedia says: "Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position."

kelsten 4 years, 2 months ago

Katara says.....

Under other pertinent information: "Your bill is due and payable on the billing date and is delinquent after the due date. [in bold letters] Penalties are charged on the basis of when payments are received, not when they are mailed."

It is pretty clearly spelled out if you take the time to review your statement.

Yes, I read that but the point you missed is that the payment IS there and IS payable on the due date. For some reason they were not processing my check in time. I don't think I, or anyone else for that matter, should be penalized for the city's failure to process checks in a timely manner.

Here's an interesting note: I was advised, by the online bill pay specialist, to pay my bill early. We wanted to see how long it took the city to cash my check. My bill for Dec was due on Dec 5 and I set it up to be paid on Dec 1. My check was CASHED on Dec 1. I went back 18 months and the City NEVER ONCE cashed my check on the date it was supposed to be paid. There was always at least one day in between the pay date and the actual cash date. Most times it took 2 or more days for the city to cash the check.

jellybeanies 4 years, 2 months ago

I had the exact same problem a few years ago when I was using US Bank's online bill pay. I know the CoL was getting their payment on time, but they contended that it was late every month. The city proceeded to tell me that even if they receive the payment on the due date that it takes them a couple of days to "process" it, so they call that late. If they receive their payment by the date due, I have done my part. How long they take to record the payment has absolutely nothing to do with me. They need to get their act together.

4 years, 2 months ago

That is so wrong! If it arrives on or by the due date, it's not late.

chocolateplease 4 years, 2 months ago

I've been paying utility bills for decades, and never once would have thought "adjustment" equaled "late fee". In fact, I'm certain that the word "adjustment" can be used for a myriad of various fees.

jafs 4 years, 2 months ago

Payments should be considered on time if they arrive by the due date. If it takes the city several days to process them, that's not our fault, and we shouldn't accrue any late fees as a consequence.

They can easily go through the mail and stamp the envelopes with the date received, even if it takes a while to process the checks inside.

As far as I know, we haven't had any problem paying by mail, but I may call the department and make sure.

sr80 4 years, 2 months ago

the post office already puts a time stamp on the mail.what it is ,is typical laziness by the city.

slowplay 4 years, 2 months ago

I didn't read every comment so someone may have already addressed this. I pay all my bills on line. I am currently using KUCU. When you make a payment or have a payment scheduled, it tells you exactly when the bill we be received by the company. It's usually 3 days from the date you pay on line. I usually add 1 extra day and have never (in over 5 years) had a late payment. That said, I think the word "adjustment" is a tad misleading, but nothing to get your panties in a bunch over.

Munsoned 4 years, 2 months ago

Why wouldn't someone get their britches in a bunch over ANY amount of government misrepresentation? It's that attitude that fleeced $187,000 from the citizens and would continue to do so if not brought to light. And, that money is likely accruing interest in an account.

Mullins has got to be doing the Scooby Doo bad guy line, "And I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids!"

ralphralph 4 years, 2 months ago

  • ... he doe*sn’t believe it is misleading to most people. “I think it is pretty clear to most people that it is a late fee,” Mullins said. *

Interpretation: " I want to work somewhere else. Please fire me now. "

billbodiggens 4 years, 2 months ago

The word "adjustment" on your uitility bill does not, under any circumstances, equate with "late charge." The old "you should have known" is not a way out of a charge of possible consumer fraud. I seem to remember years ago when enegy costs were in a great deal of flux, some utilitiy bills had a line on them for "adjustments" due to increased or decreased fuel costs to generate electricity or pump/produce water.

So, make excuses all you want. Make it sound like people are stupid. But, do not try to hide your own culpability for misleading your utility customers. Fess up to it and correct it. Shutup and sit down.

ashmole 4 years, 2 months ago

This is just plain unacceptable and needs to be fixed by the city immediately.

svenway_park 4 years, 2 months ago

petronius (Sven Alstrom) says .....i have decided to leave the forum....goodbye....i am signing out....SVEN

4 years, 2 months ago

This is ridiculous. Who in the world would know adjustment meant late fee? Hogwash. Good for Kelly for looking for some answers.

slowplay 4 years, 2 months ago

It also states that the payment will increase by $$ if paid after the due date. 2 + 2, this is not rocket science. So, in effect, your payment was "adjusted" because you failed to pay on time. Someone has way too much time on their hands and presumably does not read their statements.

Munsoned 4 years, 2 months ago

Read the article. It was paid on time. So, why would anyone assume it applied to them if they knew they paid on time??

Kontum1972 4 years, 2 months ago

i find it odd that when i pay my bill at the window in the WDept...the person at the window he/she runs it thru the scanner right then.... thats less than 3 days....try seconds....oh well they are all bunch of scoundrels.....mb u can take that adjustment off of your taxes ...ok taxe guys whats your skinny on this....?

thesloss 4 years, 2 months ago

... “I realize that $187,000 is still a good amount of money, but it is nothing to run a utility on,” Mullins said.

WHAT? Sounds like the same management techniques used by L.(p)ERK ... Um, 20% of a million dollars ... wrongfully received ... dismissed as insignificant ... wrong! ... Who does Mullins report to? What are their thoughts?

2002 4 years, 2 months ago

I am not against government at all, especially local government. This, however, is a situation that needs to be fixed because it is wrong. The wording "adjustment" appears to be a deliberate attempt to deceive or at least diffuse. It should be fixed immediately.

slowplay 4 years, 2 months ago

Per above. It also states that the payment will increase by $$ if paid after the due date. 2 + 2, this is not rocket science. So, in effect, your payment was "adjusted" because you failed to pay on time. Someone has way too much time on their hands and presumably does not read their statements.

Munsoned 4 years, 2 months ago

It was paid on time. Why would one assume it meant late fee if they paid on time?? That is why the lady called to inquire.

BBalls 4 years, 2 months ago

"If" paid after the Due Date is the key and they don't adjust payments they would add a "Late Fee" or at least that is what every other company seems to do.

lgreen 4 years, 2 months ago

We pay everything electronically through Commerce. I've had adjustments on my bills since October 2009. Wouldn't most conscientious people see that first adjustment, if it's SO obvious, and pay their next bill a bit earlier? I've always prided myself in paying bills on time. No other bill I pay ever accrues late fees. I logged into my bank account and noticed that every online payment has the same lingo, "ACH debit." Wouldn't my account say something different if an actual check was being mailed? I made payments to LMH via online payments and there was always a check number listed that wasn't from my check book, indicating that Commerce had written and mailed a check. Just called the bank and they said my payment is made electronically. I will begin paying my water bill a bit earlier and won't get too worked up about $23, but I'm grateful to Kelly for letting us know!

thesloss 4 years, 2 months ago

-information posted on City of Lawrence website

A late fee is referred to as a "late fee" on City of Lawrence website. No mention of an adjustment fee. Hmmm.

Munsoned 4 years, 2 months ago

Can anyone tell me whether or not a late payment to a city utility hurts ones credit? It was always my understanding that it does. If so, that stinks even more.

Adrienne Sanders 4 years, 2 months ago

It does not, unless you're 90 days or more overdue.

56_Kruiser 4 years, 2 months ago

I suspect they know well that they are screwing folks, and that it is an insignificant enough amount (individually) that they can get away with it. And its not like you can go to competition.

The "Allow 3 days..." argument holds no water. That should be allow 3 days to see your payment show up, not pay 3 days early so you don'g get charged.

They should credit the payment based on postmark, or electronic mark, for payments. I pay ALL bills from online payment, and this is the only one that gives trouble.

In the end its not enough to get worked up over...however, their methods seem to border on dishonest, and that is what works me up.

On the argument about idenetifying the adjustment and why...that is our fault if we don't scrutinize it, and over pay for years, like I did. For sure, I should have checked that out sooner.

But still feel they are leaning toward dishonesty when they can't process it fast enough to give us credit when we pay on time, no matter what method they use.

This article may help folks understand what is happening so they too don't get screwed. Wish I had contacted LJW when I discovered it, and maybe folks would have known sooner.

MyName 4 years, 1 month ago

I don't pay my bill every month and it's mainly due to the fact that their billing system stinks. They are the only utility bill that I have to write a check for because their online payment system requires a $3.95 fee, only takes credit cards, and still takes 3-4 business days to process. So unless my utility bill is running over $200/mo it actually saves me time and money to only pay it every other month and take the late fee. It might be different if I went downtown often enough that I could go to the counter and pay it, but otherwise it doesn't make much sense.

They need to get with the new century, and get an online payment system that doesn't cost more than the postal system.

slowplay 4 years, 1 month ago

Why not use your bank's E-Pay? No fees, one stop bill paying.

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