The RDOS offered an "equal payment plan" option for West Bench water system customers. We have decided to eliminate the option for the simple reason that it takes too much staff time to administrate. Given that this staff time is charged back to the water system, this is ultimately a cost-reduction measure. Those on the plan should have already received a letter telling them that they are being switched over to quarterly billing. Quarterly billing is simple: you are billed for what you owe at the end of the quarter. If you use more water in the summer (we all do), your summer bill will be higher than your winter bill.
Some background: two things are required to implement an equal-payment plan for the water system:
- Usage forecasts for each customer
- A reconciliation process at the end of the year
These two are related. If the usage forecasts are way off, a fairly large reconcilation (either positive or negative) is required at the end of the year. For example, if your quarterly water payments are set at $200 but then you end up using $1,500 worth of water during the year, you have $1,500 - $800 = $700 owing to the RDOS. If, on the other hand, you only used $500 worth of water, then the RDOS has to pay you back the difference. In either case, it is a large amount of manual work for RDOS staff to reconcile every customer. Plus, since our forecasts of your water use are not very good, some people are getting big shocks at reconcilation time. This is one of the downsides of metered billing: we have no idea what your water costs will be during a quarter. We see vastly different levels of water usage by residents on the West Bench.
The obvious question is: "Why don't you use computers to make better forecasts and automate the reconcilation?" The answer is that new utilities billing software is very expensive. Ideally, I would like to see all the water systems in the regional district and member municipalities move to a single shared platform. In that way, we could afford software with advanced features. Without that software, however, we are burning through a good chunk of staff time to provide a feature of modest value to our customers. And since all customers are paying for it (not just the ones who opt for the equal-payment plan), the plan was creating a fairness issue.