Satisfied with billing move

Sanitation district gets more money after severing ties with city

Several months ago the Cortez Sanitation District informed the city of Cortez that it planned to end the 10-year practice of having the city handle its billing.

Even after the separation, the district still needed the city's meters to calculate resident's usage and fees, so the district agreed to pay $1,000 a month for this service and this remains in effect.

Shortly after the sanitation district took over issuing the bills directly to its customers, it discovered that the city in numerous instances had been undercharging people.

This led to upset customers contacting the district and others went to board meetings to ask why the fees had increased while their usages had remained the same.

The district responded to the complaints by informing customers the city should have been charging customers more or they should have been placed in a different category, which would have meant an increase in their bills.

Board member John Stramel said the district is still waiting to see what type of funds it will be recouping.

"We cannot determine how much difference this will make in only two months time," Stramel said in an email. "We have recovered approximately $1.3 million that had been misplaced. We have found that some accounts were being inaccurately billed and other accounts were not being billed at all."

Stramel said the district does not know if it has found all of the discrepancies yet.

"By doing our own billing we are now able to access all of the information needed to run the district more effectively," he said in the email. "It will most likely take, at a minimum, one year's time in order to do an accurate audit of our accounts. However, I can report that the staff has done a great job handling the changes and all is going well."

Sanitation District Manager Tim Krebs Jr. said he too would like to see data for a longer period of time before determining whether the district was coming out in the black after paying the city the monthly bill of $1,000.

"We get unlimited access to the meters to tell us what was consumed," he said.

Krebs said he does not want to speculate on how much the district will or could be saving by taking control of issuing the bills.

"Let us get a good year under our belts so we can compile the data on how (much we save)," he said.

Krebs explained the city was likely unaware of certain practices and had been doing the same things for years before the district took over this responsibility in November of last year.

As an example Krebs pointed to the practice the city used when a resident had his or her water turned off. The city did not bill customers for either the water or sewer after it was turned off.

Krebs said there is always a monthly fee for sewer even if the water service to the residence or business has been turned off.

He said customers obviously do not like the fact their bills increased, but added most understood the situation when the circumstances were explained to them.

While the district is only in its third month of taking over its billing from the city, Krebs thinks it is working fairly well, but added the district had to hire a full-time billing clerk to take on this additional responsibility.

He said the biggest hurdle is property owners not understanding why they are now receiving a separate bill in the mail since they used to pay for this in association with fees for city services.

Krebs said the district has tried to make the bill paying easier for its customers through automatic pay and will be putting up a drop box at City Market.

michaelm@cortezjournal.com