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Councilor: Water billing issues a ‘big failure’


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Calling it a “big failure for the city,” the chairman of the Roswell City Council’s Infrastructure Committee said he hopes the problems with the transition to a new water billing system will be a lesson learned.

“I can’t emphasize enough this was a big failure for the city to not to be able to manage this transition properly,” Committee Chairman and Councilor Jason Roebuck said at Monday’s committee meeting.

He said while the Water Department could have planned better for the transition that led to delayed and incorrect bills, he recognized the staff worked hard to correct the issues and work with customers.

Councilor and committee member Margaret Kennard, who attended virtually through GoToMeeting, asked how the city “dropped the ball.”

Accounting Supervisor Chanel Rey said the city began implementing the transition in December 2019 and began testing the software in March 2020. She said when the transition went live on Dec. 9, the staff encountered unforeseen circumstances.

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“I think there was just some lack of understanding of some of the capabilities of the system and how some of the processes were going to work as well,” she said.

Finance Director Janie Davies, who started her position in January, reviewed a timeline of the events for the committee. One of those unforeseen circumstances was that a delay in just one of the city’s billing cycles — the groups of customers billed at one time — caused delays in the following cycles, she said.

According to the timeline Davies presented, one December billing cycle and six January cycles were delayed so inserts explaining the problems could be mailed with the bills. In that time, several employees in the department were exposed to COVID-19 and had to quarantine for three days. One employee who tested positive quarantined for 14 days.

“One of the things we have talked about is the fact we have 20 cycles a month, so pretty much one every day, and when one gets behind it just snowballs on everybody. We’ve even talked about going in and changing those to a cycle per week. That’ll give them more time if they run into issues so we don’t have something like this going forward,” Davies said.

Among the steps taken to correct the problems were purchasing 160 additional training hours for the staff, hiring two temporary staff members, correcting information that was entered incorrectly and improving communication with the staff on what information is made available to the public.

The department has five employees and is hiring a supervisor position and a temporary position.

Citizens were right to be upset about the problems, however, Roebuck said.

“We have caused a great amount of stress and duress and wasted time for our customers,” he said.

He said the failure caused a great deal of friction with a department that already has a poor reputation in the community, but that he hoped that could improve.

“Hopefully a year from now we could really be talking about how the Water Department had a reputation for providing poor customer service but now they’ve earned a reputation for great customer service,” he said.

In other business at Monday’s committee meeting:

• The committee voted to recommend approval of awarding a project to rehabilitate a portion of the Spring River Trail to Constructors Inc., Carlsbad, for $159,485. A second bid of $185,257 was received from Abraham’s Construction, Albuquerque. This is a re-bid of a proposal that was scaled back after it was bid over budget in December. Committee members Roebuck, Kennard and Savino Sanchez voted in favor of moving it to the full council’s April 8 consent agenda; Councilor George Peterson was absent.

• Voted 3-0 to recommend approval of a $63,121 change order for the reconstruction of the bridge at Lea Avenue and Deming Street. Water lines have been rerouted for the bridge construction. Some additional work outside the original project area was done to tie in to existing water lines and those portions of the roads will be microsurfaced. The item will be on the full council’s consent agenda.

• Voted 3-0 to recommend approval of awarding a $92,227 roof repair for the Waste Water Treatment Plant digester to J&J Marquez Residential and Commercial Building, Roswell. The project has been delayed since 2019 due to budget constraints. The award will be on the full council’s regular agenda.

• Voted 3-0 to recommend approval of a request for proposals for a pool of contractors for general construction services. Three vendors submitted proposals: Holloway Construction of Roswell, Facility Build of Albuquerque and White Sands Construction of Alamogordo. The item will be on the full council’s regular agenda.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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