Several years ago I was involved in a too short-lived project at City Hall to streamline the utility billing process. John Avila, myself, and staff had several meetings to build a streamlined and more accurate billing process. We didn’t get too far but I do remember a few startling things:
1. The utility data came from the Utility Department on 12th Street, but the billing staff was located at City Hall and worked within a different organization. I can remember hearing several finger-pointing stories about “them” on the other side of town who had a different view about how the process should be conducted, and the resultant delays it caused. I believe now they all work together in the utility department for better internal coordination.
2. I was amazed to find out as the recent city financial audit also did, that there were no written procedures to govern how things were to be done. Given just an individual employee perception, the process could and did change from time to time and especially when new people came into the organization and the old guard left with their institutional knowledge.
3. Lastly, before the utility and billing staff were housed in one organization, the data was delivered from 12th Street to City Hall a couple of times per day by a utility department employee! As unbelievable to me as it was at the time, rather than simply sending it electronically, labor time and a vehicle were used to transport paper from one office to another. There were complaints of late data deliveries which then put the billing people behind the eight ball. This signified to me that no one in management had paid any attention to how things were getting done for a long, long time.
Things may not have improved much since those days if a simple computer edit has not yet been added to the process to flag a $6.2 million billing as the recent audit found.
The entire billing process needs to be streamlined or “re-engineered,” and then fully automated to provide a less-costly and more accurate system. City management needs to make it happen.