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City hits snags updating utility billing system

Bills, bills, bills.

It's an unpopular phrase and an unwanted reality that many struggle with month in and month out. What's even more frustrating is trying to pay and accept payment of said bills when operational issues occur with an unwieldy, new billing system like the one here in Boulder City.

Luckily, the Boulder City Utility Department is putting in the overtime work to correct the ship and get customers back to a smooth system.

"The transition has been rough, to say the least," said Finance Director Shirley Hughes. "The system we had was antiquated and we had a lot of issues getting information from the old vendor to map that information. These things don't always work out as planned."

The reboot was done in order to bring Boulder City's 30-year old system into present-day America, no longer having to enter everything manually — which leads to the possibility of many inaccuracies.

Hughes said the new state-of-the-art system idea was conceived after hearing people say they wanted to be able to pay their bills online for a little more than four years.

Under the old system, Hughes said the department had to print up the bill, manually enter it in the system and then hand-enter the payment when it was received.

Based on the number of accounts in Boulder City, the department would have to devote a full day per section for each billing cycle to complete the tasks, according to Hughes.

With the new system, everything automatically updates, there are no paper printouts required and everything is automatically charged to expense or revenue accounts.

The new system will be more efficient, allowing customers the ability to have 24/7 access to view account balances or history, and be able to make a payment, the department said in a statement.

The plan to begin converting the system began in January 2013, Hughes said, and was implemented earlier this year, eliminating the need to manually enter large amounts of information.

However, the transition has been anything but easy transition.

Hughes said the department has received calls about bill amounts being incorrect, payments being submitted but not registering and auto-drafts pulling out incorrect amounts from residents' bank accounts.

"We went in, verified all the information and made adjustments to those residents' bills," Hughes said. "We tried to address every problem. We went in and waived some late fees."

Hughes said she wants to reassure residents of Boulder City that this transition is a process, and that people must understand that as difficult as it is for them, it's just as difficult for the utility department.

"We are behind, we are understaffed and we need people to be patient," Hughes said. "Issues that are incorrect in the old system, we need to correct. This will hopefully be ironed out soon."

Hughes said she anticipates that major issues will be resolved in the next month or two and customer self-serve should be up and running.

Hughes also said the company will be able to email bills out instead of waiting on bills in paper form to come by mail.

Residents can call now and ask for that system to be linked to their accounts.

"Utility billing is very complex, convoluted and a very difficult conversion," Hughes said. "I've yet to see any go 100 percent perfect."

Contact reporter Randy Faehnrich at rfaehnrich@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow him on Twitter @RandyFaehnrich.

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