OSKALOOSA – Residents and businesses of Oskaloosa can expect big changes this week when it comes to their water usage bills. The first change in the lineup revolves around just how often they are are billed.
“Residents and commercial accounts that have been billed quarterly in the past will all move to a monthly billing format,” said Chad Coon, general manager for the Oskaloosa Water Department. “Those bills will start going out this week for customers.”
With this change, the dates that bills are due will also change to help the Oskaloosa Water Department facilitate the move internally.
“Currently, the bills are due on the 25th of the month,” explained Coon. “This will change to the 15th of the month effective in July.”
The Oskaloosa Water Department formalized intent to start the new billing schedule in April, but it is just now starting to roll out to residents as June comes to a close and July 1 appears on the horizon. According to Coon, customers have given favorable feedback on the idea, and the Water Board agreed that it would be a good shift as well.
“Looking at the fact that both the water and the sewer had 25 percent rate increases this year, on a quarterly basis knowing what that may do to bills, it was a decision the Water Board felt was necessary to be able to help those customers better budget for that utility bill,” he said.
Coon said with the current quarterly billing, it’s very easy for residents to forget to pay their bills, resulting in non-payment incidents. This monthly billing change could help curb those issues, allowing both the department and residents to seamlessly handle their utilities.
“We’re also hoping we can help reduce some of the incidents of non-payment that we run across as a result of this new billing format,” said Coon.
Moving from quarterly to monthly billing isn’t the only change to expect when paying your water bill.
“We’re also moving to an online bill pay format,” Coon revealed on Tuesday.
The Water Department has been working with the City of Oskaloosa to allow customers to go directly to the homepage of the Oskaloosa website to pay their bill.
Customers will be able to go online to www.oskaloosaiowa.org, and find a “Pay My Utility Bill” option on the lower lefthand side of the screen, beneath “Municipal Code” and “Notify Me”. By clicking that link, users will then be redirected to a website specifically for online payments. The Water Department will need to have a social security number on file for residents to utilize this feature, but many consumers already provide this information when they elect to have running water. Aside from a social security number, all users will need their account number to sign up for paying online.
There will be more to the new online feature than just being able to pay bills, though.
“There is the ability to track consumption and as we move to a monthly feature, we hope that we can provide that information,” Coon said. “In a year I’ll be able to look at what I have for consumption in June 2016 and June 2017 and find out what my water usage practices are.”
Consumption tracking can help residents monitor their water usage and how it stacks up over a period of time. This in turn can help them know when their highest usage points are and perhaps how to dwindle that number down if need be for financial and personal reasons.
The Water Department will benefit from this feature by getting more complete data to paint an overall picture.
“Hopefully it will allow us as a department to be able to address some of our non-revenue water losses that are happening because we don’t get a complete picture of what is happening in our system when we’re only getting quarterly reads,” said Coon.
This new online feature will come on the heels of the new billing cycle, however there are still a few things to handle before it goes completely live.
“Right now you can set up your account,” he said. “But currently we’re making sure we have indemnification for a data breach before going all the way with it.”
The Department is currently in talks with their software provider, the company that will do the transactions, and their insurance company to get a plan in place to cover everyone, should something happen on the cyber side of things.
“I believe it will be done,” said Coon. “As soon as that is done, our office manager will take this live.”
As the Water Department is moving from quarterly to monthly billing, Coon hopes residents will turn out to the online feature to cut down on foot traffic when paying bills. They’ll also be able to pay delinquent or bills close to deadline without worrying about when the office will be open, and they’ll conveniently be able to pay outside of office hours. However, for those whom are not tech-savvy or may not have internet access, the current method of calling, mailing a check, or stopping out to pay in person will still be acceptable.
For those with questions about the different features of the online payment system, or how often bills will be sent, contact the Oskaloosa Water Department by calling 641-673-8476 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Story provided by Hailey Brown