Portsmouth City Manager explains the utility billing snafus

By Frank Lewis

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Portsmouth City Manager Derek K. Allen continues to shed light on the city’s utility bills. After recently announcing that inaccurate billing consisting of wrong rates has plagued the billing process, Allen has been busy attempting to get the system straightened out.

“We are struggling to get these correct and accurate bills out,” Allen said.

Allen said, when the bills went out they contained a monthly service charge.

“If you didn’t use any water or didn’t have any sewer, you still had a $21 quarterly charge for water and a $21 quarterly charge for sewer,” Allen said. “When we went to monthly that had to be divided by three in order for us not to raise everyone’s bills. So if you take the $21 and you divide it by three, it’s $7 a month for water and $7 a month for sewer. So there’s no rate change.”

Allen said those doing the billing had divided that number by three and at the same time divided the consumption rate by three.

“Just because we went from quarterly billing to monthly billing, it shouldn’t affect what I charge for 1,000 gallons of water,” Allen said. “And what we did was we lowered it from $3 and something down to $1.26 per thousand. So that’s what happened there.”

Allen said the error was discovered and while there was a slight math error it had nothing to do with what happened.

“We made some changes. Everybody is aware of the changes that we made personnel wise and put somebody over there to fix everything and last month we had more issues,” Allen said. “The whole plan all along was to get this converted to monthly billing and have several months of transition smooth billing and monthly billing before we institute the rate increase that has to happen. It may be a shocker to some people but since 2007 the Sewer Fund has had a deficit condition. And, oh, by the way we signed a Consent Order in 2013 to do millions of dollars of work, and we’ve done it and we borrowed that money and in November or December the first payment comes due and we don’t have that money.”

He said because of that series of events – “no one should be shocked that the rates have to go up.”

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.

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