Boswell Lamkin was accustomed to his Augusta Utilities bill being due on the same day of every month – the 15th – for years.
So when he received two bills this month – one he paid Feb. 6 and a second, due March 1 that he paid Tuesday, the retired engineer realized he’ll be charged for an extra month this year.
“This month, I got hit twice with a payment,” Lamkin said. “Why should we be on the hook for an extra bill?”
Augusta Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier admitted Tuesday that Lamkin and most other water and sewer customers will receive an extra “monthly” bill at some point between last July and this April.
To shorten customer billing cycles from 56 days to around 30, a move approved by the Augusta Commission last year, the department is moving the varied due dates of each customer’s bill back by two days each month, he said.
Lamkin said the department made him aware his billing cycle was changing but didn’t mention the extra monthly payment.
“Moving of the due date was where the deception was,” he said.
Wiedmeier denied the changes were intended to squeeze an extra payment out of Utilities’ customers, but that the billing cycle adjustments had to be done and “it was the best way we could figure out how to do it.”
The shorter cycle will allow customers to better associate their water bills with recent consumption, to avoid confusion and help detect leaks, Wiedmeier told The Augusta Chronicle last year.
The extra payments add up, however. If all the city’s approximately 51,000 residential water and sewer customers pay a single extra bill at the minimum base rate – $40.15 – during the 10-month transition period, that’s an extra $2 million for the utilities department, which reinvests collected water and sewer fees into the service.
City water and sewer rates vary based on consumption. Residential customers who use more than 3,000 gallons of water per month pay a higher base rate of $41.31. Residential customers who don’t have sewer services – about 12,000 of them – pay a base water rate of $21.14.
Commercial customers, who also have seen their billing cycle adjusted, pay one of 10 base monthly rates from $43.97 to $1,530, based on meter size.
Wiedmeier said city staff tried to be conscious of people on fixed incomes, and those whose water and sewer bill payment is automatically drafted but weren’t prepared for the number of customers who can’t make the second payment because they pay their monthly bills from a single monthly check. The city is waiving late fees and allowing customers who can’t afford the second bill to make incremental payments, he said.
“That’s affected more than I thought it would,” Wiedmeier said.