An interview with Kim Mazeres of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority. Read part 1.
What percentage of customers have difficulty paying bills? What can TMWA do for them?
Presently, about 17,000, or 18%, of our customers are at least one month behind on their bill. We make about 1,700 payment arrangements each month. About 400-500 orders for disconnection for non-payment are generated each month. Another way to look at it is 99.5% of our customers don’t have their water disconnected.
The two primary ways we can assist customers with their bills are water usage reviews and payment arrangements. If a customer feels that their bill is too high, they can call us to schedule a water usage review. One of our staff will come out and work with the customer to find out if there is anything that can be done to lower their bill. This help can range anywhere from helping identify a leak to figuring out the efficiency of their irrigation system. This service is free to all of our customers, all they have to do is ask. The other way we help customers is to offer payment arrangements. We have given our Customer Service Representatives the flexibility to work out arrangements with the customer that works for both the customer and TMWA. As long as a customer keeps their arrangement, there isn’t any limit to the amount of times that they can ask for and receive an arrangement.
If a customer’s bill goes past due, how does the Authority absorb this cost? Or do the other customers have to pay for the customers who do not, or cannot, pay their bills?
Currently we write off about $300,000 each year due to customers not paying their bills. Unfortunately, if a customer leaves an amount owing to TMWA, this amount is ultimately absorbed by the other customers who are paying their bills. TMWA is a not-for-profit agency, so we don’t have a profit margin to cover these costs. We strive to walk a balance between protecting every customer – those that need help with payment arrangements, but also those who pay their bills on time every month
As I went to the TMWA Web site, it seemed pretty clear what can be done to be involved with TMWA should one have a grievance to air, including attending monthly Standing Advisory Committee meetings, Board of Directors meetings or calling the Authority’s ombudsman. What are the steps TMWA takes before service is turned off to a residence because of non-payment? What does it take for a customer’s service to be shut off?
There are two different types of shut off for non pay. The first one is for customers that are not paying their bill. If we haven’t received payment or just a call to make an arrangement 35 days after we issue the bill, we mail the customer a 10-day reminder notice. The notice informs them that there is an amount past due, and gives a date to either pay this amount, or call us to make arrangements for payment. If there is no contact from the customer, we then send a 48-hour termination of service notice, again indicating the minimum amount that needs to be paid, and asking to either pay, or call to make arrangements. If there is still no contact, we schedule the service to be disconnected, and send an employee to the property to turn off and lock out the water service.
The second way that you may be shut off is for the failure to pay a deposit. Because we do bill for a service already provided, we need to do our best to protect all of our customers. If you call up to start service, and it is determined that a deposit is warranted, we understand that it is not always easy for a customer to come up with that deposit up front. So we allow the deposit to be billed. We either bill it all on the first bill, or in up to three installments, depending on the customer’s preference. Because we bill these deposits instead of collecting them up front and to minimize the risk to other TMWA customers, we do require the deposit amount to be paid by the past due date. We inform the customers of this when they sign up for service, and print it on their bill as a reminder. If the deposit is not paid by the past due date, we can disconnect water service without any additional notice.
Part 3 will run tomorrow on This Is Reno.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.