Alcosan drops direct billing : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Alcosan drops direct billing in 11 communities

Tuesday, April 04, 2000

By Bill Heltzel, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Alcosan will no longer directly bill customers in 11 communities, meaning that some customers will see changes in their sewer bills.

Each of those towns have placed a surcharge on sewer bills to pay for sewer line renovations mandated by the federal government, and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority no longer wants to be in the business of handling other agencies' fees.

"Why should we provide a service that a private company should be providing?" Alcosan spokesman Nancy Barylak asked. "We weren't making any money on it."

The decision to drop that service was hastened by Alcosan's problems with a new computer system that was installed in October 1998 by Deloitte Consulting Group.

The switch from paper accounting to computers resulted in glitches that have delayed billings by several months and prompted numerous complaints.

In 1993 Alcosan stopped offering the surcharge billing service to other communities, and the board had planned to eventually phase it out all together. But the computer problem, Barylak said, "finalized the decision."

The surcharge communities billed by Alcosan include Baldwin Township, Carnegie, Castle Shannon, Green Tree, Mt. Lebanon, North Braddock, O'Hara, Ross, Stowe, South Fayette and Wilkins.

Most towns that have a surcharge already take care of their billing. In each of 50 communities, Alcosan bills the town for everyone's sewer service and submits a list of how much each customer owes. The town collects the fees, including surcharges, and then pays Alcosan the lump sums.

Some towns collect the money themselves. Some use third party billing agencies, like Pennsylvania-American Water Co. Ross township is one of the 11 communities that must find a new billing method. West View Water Authority declined to do the work, so township officials are asking for private company proposals.

Instead of getting sewer bills six months after the meter is read, Finance Director Virginia Finnegan said, residents should receive their bills within two or three months. They will be alternated with water bills, so customers don't have to pay both in the same month.

She said the bills also will be formatted more clearly. And since they are switching over from Alcosan's billing, any customers who are delinquent will have to settle up.

"We want to start fresh," she said, "so we're trying to clean up the old billing system."

She said it's too early to say how much the billing service will cost residents. The new bills should arrive in June or July.

Another group of towns could be affected by Alcosan's new policy. Alcosan directly bills residents in 22 communities, including Pittsburgh, that don't have surcharges. But as those towns add surcharges to pay for sewer improvements mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency, they won't qualify for direct billing. Meanwhile, Barylak said, Alcosan has whittled down the computer delays.

"Our customers are still experiencing problems, for which we apologize," she said. "But we're pretty close to working out those kinks."

Barylak said Alcosan is in the process of "taking corrective action to improve the current billing system." She acknowledged that litigation against the computer vendor, Deloitte Consulting Group, is an option, but that the company and agency are trying to correct the problem outside the court system.

-- - (, April 04, 2000


Our bills were VERY inconsistently sent out last year. Problems obviously continue.

-- nothere nothere (, April 05, 2000.

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