RWR billing problems to end soon

CONYERS -- Rockdale Water Resources officials said Monday they expected customer billing to be back on schedule for April following months of delayed bills that have frustrated and confused water and sewer customers.

Al Ford, RWR customer service director, told the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners on Monday that billing for January and February service were completed last week. Billing for March is expected to be mailed out by Monday, and then billing should return to a regular schedule in the next month.

Billing delays began in November just as RWR began the conversion to new systemwide billing and management software. Data from water customers' accounts did not move over properly. Officials decided to delay billing to make corrections on the accounts.

However, RWR customers began to question their water bills with the extended billing periods and new template design of the actual bill. The questions resulted in more volume and time spent with walk-in customers and phone calls, Ford said.

"We had a monumental amount of phone calls and questions at the customer service desk," he said. "This added more delay because we were correcting problems on one end while trying to help customers on the other."

RWR faced several challenges with the system conversion that Ford attributed to information stored in the old system that was incompatible with the new system.

Among those challenges were 1,500 accounts that did not convert to the new system and resulted in no billing in December. Also, inactive accounts with balances did not convert while meter readings for new customers were actually old readings from previous customers at the same address.

That caused RWR to manually enter all daily transactions for a two-week period during the transition. Cleaning up missing meters, incorrect meter numbers and other problems were also handled manually.

"It was a much bigger project than we expected it to be," RWR Director Dwight Wicks told the commissioners.

The new software was purchased in 2007 for $304,560 through a contract with Cogsdale Corporation of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Cogsdale was hired to design and install a software program that is expected to simplify the billing process and integrate all functions of the water department.

Ford said Cogsdale was supportive of RWR, bringing consultants on site and writing new scripts in the software to fix conversion problems without additional cost.

Additional training is planned to help RWR and the county's Management Information System Department better manage the software. Ford said the cost of that training is expected to be $30,000.

RWR officials had anticipated last year to have implementation completed by the fall. Work began last spring after the Cogsdale contract sat dormant for almost a year.

Despite the problems encountered switching over to the Cogsdale software, Wicks said it will eventually benefit customers with not only a better billing system but with capabilities to better manage the entire utility by integrating all of the RWR division into one software system.