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The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed a motion to revamp Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) billing practices.
Councilmember Dennis Zine, 3rd District, chair of the Audits and Government Efficiency Committee, introduced the motion on April 25 instructing the DWP to address its customer billing and collection issues. According to Zine, there have been reports that DWP bills have been sent to residential customers late with several months of utilities charges due, requiring payments in the thousands of dollars.
Zine also requested that Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel report on the feasibility of conducting an independent audit on the performance of the DWP’s billing and collection practices, specifically on the delay of issuing bills, to be completed at the DWP’s expense.
DWP officials say the utility is doing all it can to eliminate billing delays and improve customer service, and has unveiled a new billing format to correct some of the issues.
“Our goal is to improve customer service at DWP,” said DWP General Manager Ronald Nichols. “Our prior, antiquated bill format failed to give customers the information they need to understand their water and power use and the basis for the costs on the bill. With the improved bill format, our customers now can better understand and manage their energy and water use.”
Councilmember Zine commended the DWP’s efforts, but urged continued oversight.
“I am encouraged by the fact that the new DWP general manager is taking a step in the right direction and addressing the current complicated billing format,” Zine said. “It’s refreshing and unusual for a G.M. to be so responsive and willing to face these problems head-on. That being said, we still have a ways to go.”
The Energy and Environment Committee (EEC) approved Zine’s motion on May 3 and requested that DWP create an outreach plan and be accountable to its customers, and mandated the use of single meters for water and power at all new construction or major rehabilitation. Zine and the EEC will be monitoring the effectiveness of the new bill format to make sure it is effective, otherwise, an audit by the controller will be conducted at DWP’s expense.
The DWP also serves as the billing agent for the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works Bureau of Sanitation, so the new bills will have color-coding of DWP and City of Los Angeles charges to differentiate between services. DWP charges include electric and water charges, and Bureau of Sanitation charges include sewer service, solid resources (trash) and utility tax.
“This is the first step in a longer-term program to update the entire customer information system at DWP,” Nichols said. “By 2013, we will have a system that will let us be more responsive to customer needs and inquiries as we replace a 40-year old information system.”
The DWP will report back to the committee in 120 days on the progress of its new bill format.
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