Estimated meter reading survey results

If you remember, the last Utility Information Pipeline included a short survey asking how your utility handles estimated meter readings. Readers representing 15 utilities responded to the survey and this issue includes an analysis of their responses.

Primary method of reading meters

The first survey question asked what the utility’s primary method of reading meters is. Here is a graph of those responses (clicking on any of the charts will open a larger graphic in a new window):

As you can see, the overwhelming response was drive-by AMR systems. Based on my experience, I don’t feel this is representative of all utilities, but this is what the survey is based on.

Reasons for estimating meter readings

The second question asked for what reasons do utilities estimate meter readings. Here are the results (the total responses exceed 15 because many utilities estimate for multiple reasons):

I was pleased to see that none of the respondents estimate readings as a routine practice rather than reading each billing period.

Limiting consecutive estimates

The third question asked “If you estimate because of inaccessible meters, do you have a limit to the number of consecutive estimates before you require the occupant to provide access to the meter?”. Here are the responses from the seven utilities that estimate due to inaccessible meters:

Of the five utilities that limit the number of estimates, none allow more than two consecutive estimates before requiring the customer provide access to the meter:

Monthly threshold for estimates

The next question asked if the utility has a monthly threshold for which they consider estimated readings to be excessive. Here are the responses to that question:

If you read the last Utility Information Pipeline, you know this all started because a professional colleague contacted me inquiring if I knew of an industry standard for estimated meter readings.

Surprisingly, only two utilities have a monthly threshold. The good news is they both responded with a threshold of two percent, which is the number I had provided to my colleague.

Creative responses

The final question asked the respondents to describe any creative ways they deal with estimated meter readings.

Most of the responses to this question described the utilities’ policies for calculating estimates, but one response was my favorite…

“When customers refuse to provide access to meters after multiple notifications we increase the estimated amount.”

What better way to get your customer to cooperate and provide access to their meter than to estimate their usage on the high side. We all know customers will respond to a higher than normal bill!

Free rates webinar

I’ve written previously about rates dashboards from the Environmental Finance Center at UNC. This Thursday, March 16 at 2:00pm, staff from the EFC and the North Carolina League of Municipalities will present a free webinar presenting the State of Rates in North Carolina and the 2017 update to the North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard.

Click here to register for the free webinar.

Do your meter reading practices need review?

If you want to reduce the number of estimates, or otherwise improve your meter reading process, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com for more information about how a business review could help.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2017 Gary Sanders

2012 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part III

The 2017 Utility Fee Survey is now open. Please click here to participate in the survey.

 
 
 

Editor’s Note: The 2015 Utility Fee Survey is now complete and you can see the results of that survey here:

2015 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part I

2015 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part II

2015 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part III

This is the last of three consecutive Utility Information Pipelines reporting the results of the Utility Fee Survey. Eighty-eight utilities, from 15 states, ranging in size from 200 to 168,500 active accounts participated in the survey.

The first issue summarized the demographics of the survey respondents as well as water and sewer tap and impact fees. Last week’s issue dealt with delinquent fees and policies. Today’s issue explores the remaining fees.

Clicking on any of the graphs will open a larger image in a new window.

Returned check fees

Of the 88 participating utilities, 86 charge a returned check fee. Returned check fees range from $15.00 to $50.00, as this graph illustrates:

Application fees

In Utility Information Pipeline #10, I wrote about application for service best practices. One of my recommendations was to charge a non-refundable application fee, in addition to any security deposit, to all new accounts. I’m pleased to report that 46 of the 88 utilities (representing 52.3%) responding to the survey charge such an application or administrative fee. These application fees range from $5.00 to $100.00 as shown below:

Meter reread fees

Sixteen of the eighty-eight utilities (or 18.2%) charge a meter reread fee if the customer requests their meter be reread. In many cases, this fee is waived if it turns out the customer was correct and the utility misread the meter. Of the utilities that charge a meter reread fee, the fee ranges from $8.00 to $50.00 as this graph shows:

Meter tampering fees

Fifty-three of the eighty-eight utilities (or 60.2%) charge a meter tampering fee. Six utilities charge the actual cost of repairs or cost plus an administrative fee. The remaining 47 utilities charge a flat fee ranging from $15.00 to $1000.00 as shown below:

Convenience fees

One of my earliest issues last year explained why I believe utilities should accept credit cards. I’m pleased to see that, of the 88 utilities responding to the survey, 55 of them (or 62.5%) accept credit cards. Of the 55 that do accept credit cards, 22 of these charge a convenience fee on at least one form of credit card payments as shown below:

As you can see, six utilities assess a convenience fee for over the counter payments. If you read Utility Information Pipeline #22, you know that, unless you are in a state with specific legislation allowing you to do so, Visa and MasterCard do not allow convenience fees for over the counter payments, so these six utilities are potentially in violation of their agreements with Visa and MasterCard.

The convenience fees charged by these utilities are too diverse in how they are assessed to be graphed, so they are presented here in a table.

Other fees

In addition to the fees that have been described in the three results issues, the survey asked what other fees utilities charge. Below I’ve listed a few of the more creative fees that were reported:

Letter of credit fee

Customers who have moved away often request a letter of credit reflecting their payment history while they were customers. One utility charges a $5.00 fee to provide a letter of credit. Your staff must take time to prepare the letter of credit and send it to the requesting utility, so why not charge a fee for providing this service?

Payment extension fee

Many utilities offer payment extensions to customers who may not be able to pay their bill by the due date. One utility assesses a $5.00 fee per payment extension. Having to pay an additional fee to extend the payment date may well be all it takes to convince your customer to go ahead and pay the bill now. If not, it provides an additional source of revenue when they do pay.

Return trip fee

When turning a meter on, most utilities will not leave the water on if the meter indicates water is running inside the house and no one is home. This requires the utility to make a return trip when the customer is home to turn the meter on again. Several utilities charge a return trip fee to cover the time and expenses involved in returning to the customer’s home.

Same day connection fee

A number of utilities routinely provide next day service for activating new accounts. A few utilities charge an additional fee for same day service and one even charges more for same day service late in the afternoon than they do for earlier in the day.

A special offer

I’m offering a special offer to readers of my blog. If you let me know that you read this here, I will conduct a personalized fee consultation for a 20% discount. That’s $800 rather than the usual $1,000 price for this service.

I will review your utility’s current fee schedule and conduct an in-depth phone assessment to learn more about your fees. You will receive a presentation quality document illustrating how your fees compare with other utilities. Also included will be my recommendations for revising any existing fees and suggestions of new fees you should consider charging. An on-site presentation of the report can also be arranged for an additional fee, plus travel expenses.

If you are interested in this special offer, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320 or e-mailing me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com. Remember to let me know that you read this on my blog when you contact me.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly e-mail newsletter...

© 2012 Gary Sanders

2012 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part II

The 2017 Utility Fee Survey is now open. Please click here to participate in the survey.

 
 
 

Editor’s Note: The 2015 Utility Fee Survey is now complete and you can see the results of that survey here:

2015 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part I

2015 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part II

2015 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part III

This is the second of three consecutive Utility Information Pipelines reporting the results of the Utility Fee Survey. 88 utilities, from 15 states, ranging in size from 200 to 168,500 active accounts participated in the survey.

Last week’s issue summarized the demographics of the survey respondents as well as water and sewer tap and impact fees. Today’s issue deals with delinquent fees and policies. Next week the third and final survey results issue will recap all remaining fees.

Clicking on any of the graphs will open a larger image in a new window.

Late fees

Of the 88 participating utilities, 87 charge a late fee. As shown by this pie chart, charging a late fee as a percentage of the bill is the most popular method:

Utilities that assess the late fee as a percentage charge from 1% to 15%, with 10% being the most popular, as this graph demonstrates:

Late fees range from $5.00 to $85.00 for utilities that charge a flat amount. (The utility that charges $85.00 does so in lieu of charging a reconnect fee.) This graph illustrates the late fee flat amounts:

Cut-off fees

Four of the 88 utilities do not cut off for non-payment. All of the 84 that do cut off for non-payment charge a flat amount cut-off or reconnect fee, ranging from $20.00 to $100.00 as shown below:

Of the 84 utilities that cut off for non-payment, 52 of them (representing 61.9% of the responding utilities) assess the cut-off fee as soon as the cut-off list leaves the office. I wrote about this in Utility Information Pipeline #32.

Cut-off fee terminology

As more utilities adopt this best practice, many of them are finding that terms such as “cut-off fee”, “disconnect fee” or “reconnect fee” are becoming outdated. For that reason, the survey asked what each utility calls its cut-off fee. The results are displayed in the following chart:

For the number of responses, including the ten terms included in the “other” category, please click here.

As you can see, reconnect fee and cut-off fee are still the most popular terms, but many utilities have adopted terms that do not refer to cut-off or reconnection. Calling your cut-off fee “delinquent fee” or “non-payment fee” or any of the other terms that do not imply cut-off or reconnection helps to avoid the inevitable arguments with customers who must pay the fee but have not been cut off.

After hours reconnect fees

Of the 84 utilities that cut off for non-payment, 35 of them (representing 41.7%) will reconnect after hours and charge a fee for this service.  26 of the 35 utilities (or 74.3%) will reconnect anytime after regular office hours. The remaining nine utilities will only reconnect during selected time periods as shown below:

After hours reconnect fee amounts range from $20.00 to $185.00 as show by the following graph:

Next week’s issue

Part III –June 12, 2012

Next week’s final survey results issue deals with any remaining fees, including application, returned check, meter reread, meter tampering and convenience fees.

A special offer

I’m offering a special offer to readers of my blog. If you let me know that you read this here, I will conduct a personalized fee consultation for a 20% discount. That’s $800 rather than the usual $1,000 price for this service.

I will review your utility’s current fee schedule and conduct an in-depth phone assessment to learn more about your fees. You will receive a presentation quality document illustrating how your fees compare with other utilities. Also included will be my recommendations for revising any existing fees and suggestions of new fees you should consider charging.

If you are interested in this special offer, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320 or e-mailing me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com. Remember to let me know that you read this on my blog when you contact me.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly e-mail newsletter...

© 2012 Gary Sanders

2012 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part I

The 2017 Utility Fee Survey is now open. Please click here to participate in the survey.

 
 
 

Editor’s Note: The 2015 Utility Fee Survey is now complete and you can see the results of that survey here:

2015 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part I

2015 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part II

2015 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part III

For the past few months, I’ve been conducting a Utility Fee Survey to research what fees utilities charge and how much they charge for each fee.

The results include too much information for a single issue. This is the first of three consecutive Utility Information Pipelines publishing the results of the Utility Fee Survey. Since it will take three issues to publish the results, the next two issues will be published weekly instead of bi-weekly.

Demographics of survey respondents

88 utilities, from 15 states, ranging in size from 200 to 168,500 active accounts participated in the survey. Click on the links below to see charts of the various demographic data:

Number of responses by state

Size of utilities responding

Size of utilities up to 25,000 accounts responding

Positions of individuals completing survey

Services provided by responding utilities

Water and sewer tap and impact fees

The first fees the survey asked about were water and sewer tap and impact fees. There are a couple key distinctions to keep in mind when comparing tap and impact fees.

Tap fees should recover the cost of making the actual water or sewer tap. This includes direct costs such as labor, materials and vehicle use as well as any indirect costs associated with completing the tap. Tap fees are classified as operating revenues.

Impact fees, sometimes called availability fees or system development charges, are designed to cover the incremental capital cost of adding an additional user to the water or sewer system. Impact fees are classified as non-operating revenues.

Clicking on any of the graphs will open a larger image in a new window.

Residential water tap fees charged by utilities responding to the survey range from $75.00 to $3,500.00 as shown below:

Utilities responding to the survey charge residential sewer tap fees ranging from $50.00 to $5,250.00 as depicted by this graph:

Residential water impact fees charged by utilities responding to the survey range from $200.00 to $25,754.00 as shown in this graph:

Utilities responding to the survey charge residential sewer impact fees ranging from $53.75 to $22,750.00 as shown here:

Upcoming issues

Part II – June 5, 2012

Next week’s issue deals with delinquent account fees and policies, including late fees, cut-off fees and after hours reconnect fees.

Part III – June 12, 2012

The final survey results issue showcases any remaining fees, including application, returned check, meter reread, meter tampering and convenience fees.

A special offer

I’m offering a special offer to readers of my blog. If you let me know that you read this here, I will conduct a personalized fee consultation for a 20% discount. That’s $800 rather than the usual $1,000 price for this service.

I will review your utility’s current fee schedule and conduct an in-depth phone assessment to learn more about your fees. You will receive a presentation quality document illustrating how your fees compare with other utilities. Also included will be my recommendations for revising any existing fees and suggestions of new fees you should consider charging.

If you are interested in this special offer, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320 or e-mailing me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com. Remember to let me know that you read this on my blog when you contact me.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly e-mail newsletter...

© 2012 Gary Sanders