Automatic payments delayed (TX - computer problem) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Automatic payments delayed By Tabitha Chancellor Staff Writer

Residents who pay for utilities with an automatic draft taken from their checking accounts haven't had the payments taken out since October, when the city switched its utility billing computer software.

Although the draft payments haven't been taken out, the city has been sending bills to those customers so they know the city is still billing them and can keep track of the amounts, said Jerri Rainey, utilities services manager.

She said the due date for the first round of draft customers is Tuesday and will be for the full amount owed, unless the customer has previously made a payment. The bills were sent out at the first of January.

The city sends bills to people on 21 different cycles, based on when their utility services started.

Letters are being sent out now with current bills, Ms. Rainey said, that lets customers know what's scheduled to be drafted from their accounts.

"It would be for the full balance," she said, "but we're letting customers know that if this creates hardship to contact us so we won't draw out the full balance at that time."

She said the bills that have been sent show a previous balance is owed, but the city isn't letting it affect anyone's credit rating. The amount shown as past due is what's accumulated since the October conversion.

"We don't want that to reflect on customers," Ms. Rainey said. "We want them to know we continue to bill, but not to be alarmed with the previous balance showing on the bill."

The billing changes are a result of the city converting all its utility customers from the Integrated Customer Information Systems billing software to the Harris Computer System.

The new system is year-2000 compliant and will enable the city to bill people different ways, which may come in handy under a deregulated electric market. The city converted its computer systems records on Oct. 3.

"Since our conversion, we have not drafted. We did have some final programming to do in that area," Ms. Rainey said.

When the city sent bills in mid-November, the draft program wasn't finished, so the city didn't take payments, although they sent bills.

"We did not anticipate it taking this long to get working," Ms. Rainey said.

There was a six-week delay before billing started, she said, because there were some clean-up issues associated with the conversion. Customers, including those who pay by draft, began receiving bills in mid-November.

The city altered its billing cycles for customers to make up for the lost billing days, and people will get bills every 25 to 28 days instead of every 28 to 32 days. Customers won't be asked to pay more at once, but they'll be paying for services that were used farther back in time than usual.

"Some we did anticipate and some we did not," Ms. Rainey said. "We're on our way to getting on track. We anticipate being back on track by the first of April."

-- Homer Beanfang (, January 14, 2000

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