Customer service

The city utilities department should get moving on changes to improve its billing system.

March 29, 2011


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.


jafs 7 years, 2 months ago


Or people could just mail checks instead - it always works for us.

There's no obligation to allow electronic payments of any kind, as far as I know.

sully97 7 years, 2 months ago

I admit that it's not too much to ask for city departments to have unambiguous and fair billing practices. However, billing issues like this should be taken as warning flares of larger issues down the road.

This is what happens when we demand smaller government, slash budgets, place tax burdens on the lowest echelons of earners, and implement austerity measures or higher prices on those same people--especially during an economic downturn. There is degraded and slower service while the expectations and demands of the public rise. Employees have to assume ever increasing levels of responsibility with lesser incentive or reward. Their time is taxed more and more. Their motivation and loyalty deteriorate. They finally move on to find other employment or become apathetic. It all culminates with government's inability to respond to the demands of its citizens as this editorial does.

At some point in the future there will be a crisis or a scandal that makes people realize that they really do enjoy good, capable government. By then, it's too late. The capability of government to respond is gone. The processes are antiquated. Knowledge, experience and expertise are gone. The tax base is depleted. Things like trash pick up move from every week to bimonthly. Property values begin to plummet. School systems reach the breaking point. Things like crime and poverty begin to peak. If the deterioration of service continues, the long-term economy declines and attendant population flight soon follows.

If, as this editorial demands, "...the utilities department should get to work on figuring out how to provide better service to their taxpaying customers," then the city needs to stop giving tax breaks to the largest business operations as it recently did with Plastikon. It's time for these operations to become truly responsible members of the community. Otherwise, we can expect city government to continue squeezing its residents for more revenue while providing lesser quality service.

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