MENU

City of Savannah releases water billing audit, looks at making changes

water billing.PNG
City of Savannah released a utility billing audit Thursday outlining what caused the new billing software failure last year and why customers may have experienced higher than normal utility bills. (Credit: Josie Gregory)

City of Savannah released a utility billing audit Thursday outlining what caused the new billing software failure last year and why customers may have experienced higher than normal utility bills.

After a year and a half, city officials said the Utility Services Division has finally caught up on issuing water and sewer bills.

"Any time you transition to a new software system, there's going to be some challenges. We ran into unexpected challenges," said Megan Duffy, Director of the City of Savannah Internal Audit Department.

Some of the challenges were cramming six bills into five for 2016, some bills not sent out, and some customers experiencing higher than normal bills.

"We just underestimated the amount of effort that it takes to replace a legacy computer system with a new one," Rob Hernandez, City Manager for Savannah, said.

In May, the city paid KPMG, an independent auditing firm, $141, 846 to investigate what caused the issues.

However, the firm was first tasked to investigate customer complaints of higher bills.

"They tested the billing to see if the billing is correct and, in the large majority of cases, it was accurate and correct," Duffy said.

The firm found splitting the sixth bill in with the fourth and fifth bills, customers leaving irrigation systems on, and water leaks may be to blame.

The city also wanted the firm to suggest changes to improve efficiency and transparency.

The firm recommended 21 changes; however, the city plans to take action on only a few.

The city plans on communicating better with Water Distribution and Utility Billing Departments, hiring more staff, improving the online payment experience, increasing efficiency in billing practices, and eventually upgrading meters to fully automated, eliminating the need for readers.

"There's too much handwriting, too much manual work being done, and there's always the potential for error," Hernandez said.

Duffy said the city is already implementing some of the online changes, but the others will take at least a year.

The city is also looking to eventually move to a monthly billing cycle, but the aforementioned changes need to be addressed before making the switch from bi-monthly.