How long does it take to make billing changes that will benefit Lawrence utility customers?
It’s been two months since a Journal-World article revealed that a high percentage of Lawrence residents were paying a mislabeled late fee on their monthly water and sewer bills. Although the utilities department previously had said changing the bills to read “late fee” rather than “adjustment” was impossible, it found a way to make that change almost immediately after the problem came to light.
Unfortunately, action on other issues related to city billing practices isn’t moving as quickly.
City officials said at the time that they were surprised that about 30 percent of city utility customers were paying a late fee — about twice the rate at several other local utilities. One possible explanation is that the other utilities offer a short grace period after the bill’s due date before late fees are charged. The city doesn’t do that, but it certainly seems like a reasonable step, at least temporarily, while the billing department looks into problems customers say they are having with online banking payments being credited on time.
The city billing people also say they are looking into possibilities like an option that would allow people to pay their bills with a credit card without incurring the current $3.95 “convenience” fee.
It seems to us that making it convenient to pay water and sewer bills — without undue late fees — is a matter of good customer service. Rather than spending any more time blaming this problem on utility customers not understanding how payments are processed, the utilities department should get to work on figuring out how to provide better service to their taxpaying customers.