How to update your Google Maps listing

Before we get to the topic of this post, the last Utility Information Pipeline included a poll asking how you handle temporarily inactive accounts. Here is a recap of the responses to the poll (clicking on the chart will open a larger graphic in a new window):

I was pleasantly surprised to see that a majority of the poll responses do charge temporarily inactive accounts, whether it’s continuing to bill them or by assessing a fee.

Google Maps error

I was involved in a sales presentation last week and had an interesting experience when I clicked on the Mapping link within Logics’ Utility Management software. I always set the service address of my demo account to the prospect’s office address so they recognize the map.

The pushpin for the address appeared in the correct place, but the Google Business icon for the utility office was on the house next door! I commented on this and the utility staff laughed and said, yes, customers often drive past their office and have to turn around next door.

I said “Let’s fix that.” and clicked on the “Report a map error” link in the lower right corner of the inset map (this link is called “Send feedback” if you are in native Google Maps). I was able to drag the icon to the correct building on the map and, within minutes, received an email from Google confirming my correction had been made.

Step-by-step instructions to correct a map error

Back in 2012, I wrote about updating your listing in Google Places (now called Google Business). In case your Google Map listing is misplaced, as was the case with Auburn Water System, here are the steps to correct it.

As you can see from the screen shot below, the pushpin was between two buildings rather than directly on the Auburn Water System office:

  1. Click the “Send feedback” link in the lower right corner.
  1. Select “Edit the map” from the Send feedback menu.

  1. Click on the icon for the business you want to correct, in this case Auburn Water System.
  1. Check “Marker is placed incorrectly on the map” beside Location on the Suggest an edit menu.

  1. Drag the marker to the proper place on the map.
  1. Click submit.
  1. A message will pop up thanking you for improving Google Maps.

  1. Once your edit has been approved, you will receive an email from Google Maps letting you know it was a success!

The end result is the pushpin is now directly on the Auburn Water System office building! I guess now I should do the same thing for Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative, who share the same building with Auburn Water System. (I’m unsure why they didn’t show on the “before” map…)

Last chance for the 2017 Utility Fee Survey

This is your last chance to participate in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey. The survey will be closing at the end of the day, June 30, so if you haven’t already done so, please click here to complete the survey. It should take less than five minutes to complete. For an idea of what to expect from the survey, here are the results of the 2015 Utility Fee Survey:

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com or call me at 919-232-2320.

Thank you in advance for your participation in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey.

Reviewing your policies?

If you’re in the process of reviewing or updating your policies, 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 you review your entire office operation.

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

© 2017 Gary Sanders

How do you handle temporarily inactive accounts?

I had a Town Manager who attended my recent presentation at the North Carolina Rural Water Association Annual Conference contact me with a question. He wanted to know what I recommended regarding billing for temporarily inactive accounts.

Snowbirds

If you have seasonal customers, you know the issue he was inquiring about – snowbirds from colder climates who go south for the winter (or, conversely, winter homes in warmer climates) or summer homes where your customer only wants the utilities on for the summer months.

The dilemma facing your utility is should you continue to bill the base charge each month, even if the customer has no usage?

Recovery of infrastructure costs

One clue as to how to handle this is understanding the rationale behind your base charge.

For many utilities, the base charge is designed to recover the investment you have in providing service to the property, regardless if there is usage. You must maintain the infrastructure and service lines year-round and you have an investment in a meter at the premises, even if no one is living there.

If this is the case for your utility’s base charge, you have every reason to continue to charge the base charge, even if the account is temporarily inactive.

Fees in lieu of monthly billing

An alternative to billing the customer each month is to charge a fee to turn the service off and another fee to turn it back on (based on the user fee concept that you are performing a service for this customer that wouldn’t otherwise be required).

The idea here is the two fees combined should cover your staff’s time and effort to disconnect and reconnect the service as well as recoup what your customer would have paid if they left the service on with no usage and paid the base charge only.

How does your utility handle this?

How does your utility handle temporarily inactive accounts? Please take this quick poll.


 
Once you’ve taken the poll, you will be able to see the results to see how other utilities responded. I’ll publish the final results in the next issue.

2017 Utility Fee Survey

The 2017 Utility Fee Survey is ongoing. If you haven’t already completed it, please click here to complete the survey. It should take less than five minutes to complete. For an idea of what to expect from the survey, here are the results of the 2015 Utility Fee Survey:

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com or call me at 919-232-2320.

I’m hoping for as much participation as possible in the survey, so please feel free to pass this on to your colleagues at other utilities.

Thank you in advance for your participation in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey.

Reviewing your policies?

If you’re in the process of reviewing or updating your policies, 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 you review your entire office operation.

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

© 2017 Gary Sanders

Do you bill yourself?

Does your utility bill itself for usage in buildings you own?  At first, this may sound like an odd question, but let’s look a little closer.

Three possible scenarios

When it comes to your own usage, there are three possible billing scenarios:

  1. Don’t meter or bill yourself
  2. Meter the usage but calculate bills using a no charge rate
  3. Bill yourself at your normal rate for commercial customers

Clearly, the first option is not a good one. If you’re not metering your own usage, you have no way to look for usage trends or, for water utilities, check for leaks.

In my experience, the second choice is far and away the most common. Metering and tracking usage with a no charge rate provides a way to compare usage trends for your own accounts, just as you would with any other customer. Additionally, if you are a water utility and monitor your water loss, your own usage represents non-revenue water that should be tracked.

Why would you bill yourself?

The third option makes the most sense for local governments, especially those that operate their utilities as enterprise funds. Good accounting practice (and the law in some states) frowns on inter-fund transfers, such as the General Fund supporting the Water or Electric Fund.

Since many government buildings (think City Hall, Police Department, Fire Department, Parks and Recreation facilities) are part of the General Fund, “paying” yourself in the form of a utility bill is a perfectly legitimate way to transfer funds from the General Fund to a utility fund.

2017 Utility Fee Survey

The 2017 Utility Fee Survey is still open. If you haven’t already completed it, and would like to participate, please click here to complete the survey. It should take less than five minutes to complete.

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com or call me at 919-232-2320.

I’m hoping for as much participation as possible in the survey, so please feel free to pass this on to your colleagues at other utilities.

Thank you in advance for your participation in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey.

Last chance to register for aging workforce seminar

A major issue facing management of all utilities, large and small, is an aging workforce. As more key employees approach retirement age, utilities across the country are having to face the issue of replacing the loss of institutional and operational knowledge these long-time workers hold.

Does your utility have a plan in place to deal with the aging workforce?

The Utility Management Committee of the NC AWWA-WEA, of which I am a member, is sponsoring an Aging Workforce Issues – Best Practices Panel & Luncheon seminar. This seminar, originally scheduled for last October, has been rescheduled to Thursday, May 4 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.

If you are located within driving distance of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I encourage you to join us. If not, you can still participate in a live webcast of the seminar.

The seminar moderator is J.D. Solomon, PE, CRE, CMRP; Vice President of CH2M. The panelists are:

  • Rod Dones, Organizational Development & Learning Specialist, Charlotte Water
  • Tamara Byers, Human Resources Manager, Charlotte Water
  • Ed Kerwin, PE, Executive Director, Orange Water & Sewer Authority
  • Matt Bernhardt, Director of Public Works and Utilities, City of Gastonia
  • Courtney Driver, PE, Utilities Director, City of Winston-Salem

For more information, or to register for the seminar, please click here.

North Carolina Rural Water Association presentation

If you or any of your co-workers or board members will be attending the North Carolina Rural Water Association Annual Conference, please be sure to attend my presentation on Improving Revenue Collections for Utilities at 8:30am on Thursday, May 18.

Part of this presentation includes an exercise for calculating how much your security deposit should be, based on your days of exposure.

If you or someone from your utility does attend, please be sure to introduce yourselves!

Need assistance?

If, after completing the 2017 Utility Fee Survey, you’re wondering if your fee schedule is up-to-date, or if you need to find ways to reduce your days of exposure, 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 you review your entire office operation.

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

© 2017 Gary Sanders

Why aren’t deposits included in the Utility Fee Survey?

The 2017 Utility Fee Survey is a tool for researching what fees different utilities charge and how much they charge for each fee. I was asked why the survey doesn’t include a question about security deposits.

Questioning

Beyond the obvious

Obviously a security deposit isn’t a fee because fees, by definition, are non-refundable and security deposits are refundable.

Rate increases are never popular, and the best alternative to increasing rates (which impacts all customers) is to charge equitable fees. Fees, such as an administrative fee for activating new customers or a disconnection fee for non-payment, are assessed only to those customers using the service covered by the fee.

Comparing what fees your utility charges, and how much you charge for each, to what other utilities charge is a useful exercise. Such comparisons provide a benchmark for determining if your utility is charging all available fees and if the amount of those fees is fair.

Security deposits, on the other hand, are a function of each utility’s rates, business practices, and customer usage patterns. I’ve written previously about why comparing your security deposit to other utilities is pointless. A better exercise would be to review your own business practices to find ways to reduce your days of exposure.

Complete the 2017 Utility Fee Survey

If you haven’t already completed the 2017 Utility Fee Survey, and would like to, please click here to complete the survey. It should take less than five minutes to complete.

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com or call me at 919-232-2320.

I’m hoping for as much participation as possible in the survey, so please feel free to pass this on to your colleagues at other utilities.

Thank you in advance for your participation in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey.

North Carolina Rural Water Association presentation

If you, or any of your co-workers or board members, will be attending the North Carolina Rural Water Association Annual Conference, please be sure to attend my presentation on Improving Revenue Collections for Utilities at 8:30 am on Thursday, May 18.

Part of this presentation includes an exercise for calculating how much your security deposit should be, based on your days of exposure.

If you or someone from your utility does attend, please be sure to introduce yourselves!

Aging workforce seminar

A major issue facing management of all utilities, large and small, is an aging workforce. As more key employees approach retirement age, utilities across the country are having to face the issue of replacing the loss of institutional and operational knowledge these long-time workers hold.

Does your utility have a plan in place to deal with the aging workforce?

Upcoming seminar

The Utility Management Committee of the NC AWWA-WEA, of which I am a member, is sponsoring an Aging Workforce Issues – Best Practices Panel & Luncheon seminar. This seminar, originally scheduled for last October, has been rescheduled to Thursday, May 4 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.

If you are located within driving distance of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I encourage you to join us. If not, you can still participate in a live webcast of the seminar.

The seminar moderator is J.D. Solomon, PE, CRE, CMRP; Vice President of CH2M. The panelists are:

  • Rod Dones, Organizational Development & Learning Specialist, Charlotte Water
  • Tamara Byers, Human Resources Manager, Charlotte Water
  • Ed Kerwin, PE, Executive Director, Orange Water & Sewer Authority
  • Matt Bernhardt, Director of Public Works and Utilities, City of Gastonia
  • Courtney Driver, PE, Utilities Director, City of Winston-Salem

For more information, or to register for the seminar, please click here.

Need assistance?

If, after completing the 2017 Utility Fee Survey, you’re wondering if your fee schedule is up-to-date, or if you need to find ways to reduce your days of exposure, 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 you review your entire office operation.

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

© 2017 Gary Sanders

Invitation to participate in 2017 Utility Fee Survey

You’re invited to participate in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey. I’m researching what fees different utilities charge and how much they charge for each fee.

2012 and 2015 Survey Results

I conducted similar surveys in 2012 and 2015 and you can review the results here:

The Utility Fee Survey will become a biennial survey, alternating years with the Utility Staffing Survey.

The results of the survey will be published in a series of upcoming e-mail newsletters. To be sure you receive the results of the survey, if you haven’t already signed up for my free e-mail newsletter, please click here to subscribe.

Complete the 2017 Utility Fee Survey

If you would like to participate, please click here to complete the survey. It should take less than five minutes to complete.

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com or call me at 919-232-2320.

I’m hoping for as much participation as possible in the survey, so please feel free to pass this on to your colleagues at other utilities.

Thank you in advance for your participation in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey.

Aging workforce seminar

A major issue facing management of all utilities, large and small, is an aging workforce. As more key employees approach retirement age, utilities across the country are having to face the issue of replacing the loss of institutional and operational knowledge these long-time workers hold.

Does your utility have a plan in place to deal with the aging workforce?

Upcoming seminar

The Utility Management Committee of the NC AWWA-WEA, of which I am a member, is sponsoring an Aging Workforce Issues – Best Practices Panel & Luncheon seminar. This seminar, originally scheduled for last October, has been rescheduled to Thursday, May 4 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.

If you are located within driving distance of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I encourage you to join us. If not, you can still participate in a live webcast of the seminar.

The seminar moderator is J.D. Solomon, PE, CRE, CMRP; Vice President of CH2M. The panelists are:

  • Rod Dones, Organizational Development & Learning Specialist, Charlotte Water
  • Tamara Byers, Human Resources Manager, Charlotte Water
  • Ed Kerwin, PE, Executive Director, Orange Water & Sewer Authority
  • Matt Bernhardt, Director of Public Works and Utilities, City of Gastonia
  • Courtney Driver, PE, Utilities Director, City of Winston-Salem

For more information, or to register for the seminar, please click here.

Is your fee schedule up-to-date?

If, after completing the 2017 Utility Fee Survey, you’re wondering if your fee schedule is up-to-date, 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 you prepare for the transition.

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

© 2017 Gary Sanders

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