City Working to Ease Water Billing Issue

Belle Fourche News

by Beacon Staff
Sept. 15, 2021

BELLE FOURCHE – The city of Belle Fourche is working with an Omaha software company to ease a billing issue for residents who wish to use the new ACH online payment system to pay their water bill. ACH (Automated Clearing House) payments are paperless, as funds are transferred directly from an individual’s bank account directly to a payee’s account.

The problem arose when the new G-Works software that has been put in place to manage a wide range of city tasks, would only allow pulling ACH payments for resident’s water bills on the first of each month. Belle Fourche residents payed during the middle of the month with the old system.

“The way it used to be is our water bills were due on the tenth of the month,” Breanna Schaefer, City Finance Officer told the Beacon. “When we first took on the (new software) we were not aware that we would be on a different billing cycle. We had the understanding that we could keep things the same.”

Schaefer says it is a top priority since it does affect all residents. Right now, the city sends out about 2,300 water bills monthly and 573 of them have signed up for the ACH payment. But if a resident does not use the new ACH payment system the billing cycle has changed since it is dictated by the G-Works platform. That means all water bills are due on the first. The difference for now is that ACH transactions are only pulled once, at the first of the month. Those who pay by mail or through the drop box would have until the seventh to pay their bill before any late fees would be added.

Schaefer said the city did extensive research when looking for a provider to update the city’s software. She said they provided G-Works with a lot of data up front and had conversations with them specific to this issue and came away with the impression that the water billing cycle was not going to be an issue.

“Most things stayed the same, but that piece didn’t,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer has been in touch with G-Works trying to iron out the issue for the good of the residents and the city. She says since many payments are concentrated at the end or the beginning of the month, having the water bills due more toward the middle of the month was seen to be a more palatable situation.

“It was nicer because it fell in the middle of the month,” Shaeffer said. “I think most utilities fall right at the end or beginning of the month. That’s when your rent is due, your mortgage is due. It can be tough for anybody whether you’re on a fixed income or not. It was better to have it on the tenth.

“The last thing we wanted to do was to put the citizens in any kind of dilemma,” she said. “So I asked the (G-Works) programmers to move heaven and earth and make those ones and zeros click in a way that we can keep the schedule the same.”

G-Works has told the city that they will make the request a priority and Schaefer told the city council at their regular meeting on Sept. 7th that she will be closely following up with the company to track progress on the issue.

“Again that is something (G-Works) is working on building in order to give us more options,” Schaefer said. “And I don’t know if that will be multiple (ACH) days or just a second day. I’m not sure what it looks like yet, but my goal is to offer a little more flexibility, let people pay their bill up until the seventh or the eighth without penalties and that gets them pretty close to the tenth.”

In the meantime, on Aug. 2nd the city council passed Resolution No. 37-2021 to forgive any late fees on water bills for 60 days. That resolution is due to expire on October 2nd.

“The city understands how you’ve got to rework your finances if the bills change and so we were hoping by waiving those fees for two months it could help people get onto a different household budgeting cycle,” she said.

The resolution does not absolve citizens of any unpaid balances on water bills. It only forgives the late fees.

If the issue is not resolved by Oct. 2nd it is possible the resolution could be extended if G-Works is still working to resolve the issue in the city’s favor. If the billing cycle issue cannot be resolved favorably from the city’s viewpoint it is possible but unlikely, they will scrap the new software and look for an alternative. The city paid $130,000 to license the software and is paying an annual user fee of $19,650 per year to G-Works. Schaefer says the migration of 20 years of data involving several departments from the outdated system to new software is nearly complete and starting over at this point would be seen as difficult.

“It’s not cheap and it wouldn’t be easy. I wouldn’t want to see anyone have to go through that again,” she said.