NM - Billing Problems Hit the Bill Payers

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Billing Problems Hit the Bill Payers Source: Albuquerque Journal

Publication date: 2000-07-13


Down at the bottom of the food chain, consumers and taxpayers are expected to be accurate in making out checks to cover their bills, or they are quickly called to account. Accuracy is not necessarily assured in the bills they receive.

During the two years Public Service Company of New Mexico has used a billing system called Banner, delays and incorrect billings have been attributed to it. PNM blamed Banner when 66,000 bills were delayed in early 1999, some for as long as four months.

More recently PNM fell behind on dealing with malfunctioning electric meters because, spokesmen say, workers instead were focused on the Banner system. As a result, 477 bills were delayed or incorrectly calculated for up to two years.

The regulated utility cannot collect for more than six months of past due bills attributable to meter failure. Billing regulations also limit PNM in such circumstances to bill at a rate equal to 97 percent of the customer's lowest electricity usage month of the past two years. Still, one hopes those customers were sitting down when they opened bills for up to six months of arrears that were sent out in May.

At least PNM is working out payment plans with customers who can't pay the retroactive bills all at once. Over at Bernalillo County, where computer glitches have resulted in some overcharges on property tax bills, the only plan is: Pay the wrong amount; we'll refund the overage later.

About 7,400 taxpayers successfully protested their property assessments, but the lower assessments weren't reflected in tax bills. Sandia Heights resident Jack Wirtz has been trying to get his inflated tax bill corrected for seven months.

"I was hoping to get the correction done before I would have to pay the second half of my taxes at the wrong rate, but it didn't happen. I did the math myself and sent them a check. ..." Wirtz said. "They say I owe them more, but I'm not paying it."

Property owners who pay taxes along with monthly mortgage payments don't have that option. They will continue to overpay until the county works out its bugs.

At least there's some oversight of PNM. Public Relations Commissioner Herb Hughes is looking for more information on the relationship between the Banner system and the company's poor billing record and says the matter may end up on a work session agenda of the commission.

There's a commission at the county, too. If enough of the 7,400 voters who are paying too much in taxes contact commissioners or the candidates running to replace them this assessment problem will be resolved sooner rather than later.


-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), July 15, 2000

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