A steady line of residents filed into city hall to pay the second of two bills to the water department in a confusing changeover resulting in the installation of new software.
It was the perfect storm of several incidents that had a few residents steamed, not understanding what was going on, but the result says City Manager Theo Melancon will be a more consistent billing cycle.
In January of 2017, before Melancon arrived in June, the council approved the purchase of a new software system. The previous one was outdated and provided a risk opportunity for fraud.
“The planned conversion was to occur during last November and would continue through April,” Melancon said.
“Unfortunately, it allowed users too much control over the data. There was opportunity to change numbers that shouldn’t be changed,” he said.
The finance department felt like there was not enough internal controls. The new software produces an audit trail that documents any changes made to the accounts.
“There’s accountability with the software,” he said.
Melancon, nor any of the finance department, was accusing anyone of fraud, but they wanted to limit the ability for anyone to do so.
The program was outdated and needed updating.
Unfortunately, the city was using a legacy type software and they had skipped several generations of the updated software resulting in a much larger task to convert years of records.
“There was a lot of manual inputting for utility billing to purchasing to HR to payroll that had to be entered into the new software,” Melancon said.
There were many late nights of work.
“In the case of the utility billing, it became painfully apparent that we had created some business practices around the old software,” the city manager explained. “The old software had some hard coding, when you can bill, how to bill it, but it caused us some grief.”
Melancon described it in a scenario such as using the water in December of 2017. It would be read sometime during the middle of January. Then the billing might not get out for a due date until March.
“We didn’t think that was a good practice of allowing bills to go for two to three months,” he said.
One of the things residents complained about, was a bill due for March 1 and March 22.
“Those were two months of usage,” he said. “We were trying to bring January and February up to date.”
The new bill is due on April 17 is the new cycle and should be that way from this point on, he said.
The city had to catch up on the two previous months at least one month of billing.
With the previous policy, when water was cutoff, they were not just losing one month of billing, but sometimes as much as two.
“It could be as much as two-and-a-half months of water before we might have to cut them off,” he said. The city couldn’t afford to keep losing that amount of money.