Ten months after the Board of Water Supply was besieged by customers complaining about estimated bills, the agency's top man told members of the City Council Wednesday that tremendous progress has been made.
"We are currently generating on a monthly basis less than 2 percent of our bills going out as estimated bills," said Ernest Lau, BWS manager and chief engineer.
Lau says at the height of billing problems in March of last year, more than 90,000 of its 166,000 customers on Oahu were recipients of estimated billing. Last month, that number was reduced to about 3,000 customers. Lau attributes the improvement to better management of the agency's automated meter reading system, fixing a data upload issue and an increase in staff.
Members of the Council's Public Works and Sustainability Committee praised Lau for the progress he reported.
"Considering the logistical difficulties and the problems that you had to deal with when you first came onboard and all these different changes were being made, I think that's a pretty commendable turnaround in the service of your department," said Councilman Stanley Chang, who chairs the committee.
Lau was called to the committee room to testify on a resolution introduced by Councilwoman Kymberly Pine (Resolution 14-19) that urges BWS to investigate when two bills are estimated back-to-back. However, Lau said investigations are already taking place when a customer receives two consecutive months of estimated billing.
"If the system tries to generate a third month, that bill is held and has to be reviewed by the staff, and now we have adequate staff to do that," he said.
However, BWS cannot say how many of the 3,000 customers who received estimated bills in January had received the same type of billing a month earlier.
"Right now like anything else, we have limited budgets and limited staff resources. So, their focus is on dealing with current issues and problems and also looking forward to future enhancements to the system," explained Lau.
The improvement in paring down the number of estimated bills has also resulted in fewer calls to the BWS call center on S. Beretania Street. At the height of billing problems, the agency was receiving 1,400 to 1,600 calls per day. In January, the average number of calls has dropped to 400 to 600 per day.
"We are answering 96 percent of those calls, and the phone is answered within five or six minutes at the maximum," Lau told committee members.
Meanwhile, the agency will soon issue a request for proposals to expand its online bill viewing and payment service, while setting up an automated phone billing system.
The committee passed Pine's resolution 5-0, and it now heads to the full council for final passage. Unlike bills, resolutions do not carry the weight of law.