Wastewater operation missed out on $609,000 in revenue

By Jason Arndt

Editor

When city officials started implementing a 3 percent wastewater rate increase for 2019, they uncovered a costly error accounting for at least $609,000 of lost revenue from specific customers in Burlington.

Director of Public Works Peter Riggs said the specific customers apply to category B, extraterritorial and septage haulers and does not involve residential properties.

Residential properties fall under category A, which includes commercial and industrial properties with typical waste discharges.

Riggs revealed the findings at the Feb. 20 Committee of the Whole meeting and indicated further investigation showed the issue started in 2017.

In 2017, the city implemented a 20 percent wastewater rate increase for all customer classes, except for septage haulers. Septage haulers were given a 12 percent increase.

“It has been determined that the 2017 rate increase has not been applied to invoices for these customers, resulting in under charging them for service,” Riggs wrote in a memo to officials.

“The result is a gap between the rates charged to category A customers and all customers of the utility.”

Riggs, however, said there wasn’t a single issue that directly caused the error, but suspects the contributing factors were complications from staff turnover and different billing processes for category A customers and other customers.

Riggs, who started his tenure after the 2017 implementation, assured the Common Council the error will not occur in the future.

He told the Common Council his department has become more centralized.

Riggs does not recommend recouping the lost revenue because it will result in higher than expected bills for these customers.

District 3 Alderman Steve Rauch questioned Riggs why staff has decided not to pursue collection of lost funds.

“That is going to have a real profound impact on those customers,” Riggs said.

Meanwhile, other council members believe Riggs offered a fair recommendation, including District 2 Alderman Bob Grandi.

“If this happened to me, I would be upset,” Grandi said.

District 4 Alderman Todd Bauman agreed with Grandi, adding it is unreasonable to demand back pay from customers who did not have any control over the error.

“I agree with Bob. I don’t think you should back and say, ‘We screwed up and you owe us money,” Bauman said.

To read the full story see the Feb. 28 edition of the Burlington Standard Press.

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