An unusually high number of Cortez residents received overdue notices for their water bills in November, after the city switched to a new billing software.
In August, the city’s water department switched to a new online software called Caselle to manage residents’ accounts and payments. But within the same month, the server that supports the software crashed, causing the department to lose all their records, including records of who had paid their bills on time and who hadn’t. The utility department did not send notices or disconnect residents’ water in September or October while they worked to fix the problem, but when the system started working again in November, about 150 residents received late-payment notices.
Although it’s rare for so many people to be late on their payments in one month, city finance director Kathi Moss said that, as far as she knows, none of the notices were sent out in error, and no one’s water has been shut off because of the software problem. Her department has not received any complaints to that effect, at least.
But the software glitch did slow down the water department considerably. Moss said it took the city the past three months to completely re-create their electronic files after the server crash.
“Accounts payable, customer records ... we lost everything,” she said.
The city installed the new software in part because it wanted to improve its billing service. For the first time, the software allows the utility department to send automated phone calls to remind residents about overdue bills. The phone call warning, which was sent out for the first time in November, comes after customers’ first late payment warning, which appears on their monthly bill if they haven’t paid 10 days after the due date. After the phone call, late customers get “tagged” with a final warning posted on their front door. Customers who ignore all the warnings lose their water service.
In a typical month, about 15 to 20 Cortez residents get “tagged” or have their water disconnected because of overdue payments. Moss said she hopes the glitch in the billing software won’t cause that number to go up this month.
Mayor Karen Sheek said the new software’s bumpy introduction wasn’t too surprising.
“Anytime you have a complicated technology and human beings who operate it, there are problems that pop up,” she said. “Even after months and months of having a program, things still come up that need to be tweaked and fixed.”
She and Moss said the problem is sorted out now, and they expressed hope that no similar glitches will pop up in the future. But Moss said “bugs” are always a possibility with new software.