COPPERAS COVE — After taking on duties previously held by its third-party water biller Fathom, the City of Copperas Cove has had customers lining up inside and outside of its Utility Administration office earlier this week.
While trying to help customers make payments and deal with account issues, the department was also getting up to 1,800 calls per day.
Fathom announced in early November that it would go out of business by the end of that month. After several extensions, the company sent its last round of bills in mid-December.
City Manager Ryan Haverlah said during a City Council meeting Tuesday that the last bills sent by Fathom created much of the problem handling the volume of calls and visits by customers. The due date on about 6,000 bills was listed as Jan. 6, a date that didn’t match previous due dates for many of those customers. The city manager said phone calls and messages were not being returned after call volume increased from 800 to 1,300 calls daily last week. On Monday, the department received 1,800 calls. Haverlah said normal call volume should be more like 300 to 400 calls a day. He said staff is logging the messages received so that they can return calls as soon as possible.
The number of in-person visits has also generated long wait times at the utility office and at times has created traffic bottlenecks at City Hall as customers wait for parking spaces to open up. Haverlah said Monday was a difficult day at the water billing office due to the influx of customers. But he said the number of customers who visited the utility department was greatly reduced on Tuesday and he expected traffic volume to be great reduced by next week.
Haverlah said that the city has begun migrating the data needed to begin generating water bills for customers. He expects that process to be completed next month, and the city will begin generating water bills as soon as the system is ready.
Haverlah also said there had been a setback in the city’s planned renovation of the former Utility Administration building at 305 S. Main St. The architect the city had been planning to use decided not to take on the project after several weeks of conversations, so the city will have to find a new firm before the project can proceed.
He also expects the ability to make online payment to resume shortly. The city is currently unable to process any online payments because Chase Bank has not issued a merchant account to the City of Copperas Cove. Chase Bank works through the city’s contracted payment processor, Paymentus, to make sure customer payments reach the city’s coffers. Haverlah said the city turned down Paymentus’ offer to continue processing payments following the end of the city’s agreement with Fathom, but the city turned down the offer because of worries that those payments would somehow wind up being sent to Fathom.
Haverlah also wanted to make sure water customers know that H-E-B and Walmart are not currently accepting payments for Copperas Cove water bills. He said any information circulating about the two retailers accepting those payments is not true.
Haverlah said the city planned to send all current customers a written notice of all current information regarding water billing to help avoid further confusion. There will also be future town hall meetings to update the public on the city’s progress on the water billing issue.