Homewood water customers will soon be paying water bills monthly as the village begins the transition in October from the current quarterly billing cycle.
At the board of trustees meeting Tuesday, Village Finance Director Dennis Bubenik outlined the changes that would affect customers and noted a number of amendments to the village code book that will be needed to reflect the policy change. Trustees are expected to vote on the code amendments at the Aug. 25 board meeting.
Bubenik said the change to monthly billing is being done to make it easier for customers to pay their water bills.
He noted that with regular rate increases imposed by Chicago in recent years, quarterly bills are getting bigger. The average bill is about $455.
“It’s getting tough even for a good home budgeter,” he said.
Under the new system, the average bill will be just less than $152, according to his presentation.
The change to monthly billing was enabled by the 2014 switch from mechanical to electronic water meters. In the past, a meter reader had to look at each meter, and the process took about three months to complete, Bubenik said.
Public Works Director John Schaefer said the new meters use a magnetic field to more accurately measure water flow. The new meters use radio frequencies to send readings to the village.
“With the new meters, reads are instantaneous,” he said, and that makes the quarterly billing cycle unnecessary.
The monthly billing cycle will begin in October and will be phased in during three months, he said. In October, one-third of customers will go to monthly billing, and by the end of the year, all customers will be on the new cycle.
Bubenik and Village Manager Jim Marino told trustees the village will use all the means at its disposal to inform customers about the change and how it affects them, including information included with bills, articles in the Village Key quarterly print publication and the e-newswire bi-weekly email newsletter, the village cable TV channel and possibly a direct mailing.
Although water rates won’t be affected by the change, customers will see some differences.
The due date for payment will change from the 20th to the 15th of the month.
For residents whose water service is disconnected for non-payment, the current three-tiered reconnect fee will be replaced by a flat rate. Currently, the first reconnect in 12 months costs $50, the second is $75 and the third is $100. In the new system, reconnects will cost $75.
The delinquent payment notice system will change, too.
Currently, the village issues four notices, including the initial bill, before water service is shut off. In the new system, there will be two notices, including the initial bill, and water service will be subject to disconnection by the end of the billing month.
That provision was the only one to receive comment by trustees.
Jay Heiferman and Ray Robertson both questioned whether the time period was adequate.
“It’s kind of harsh,” Heiferman said, noting that going on vacation or some other life complication might cause even a faithful bill payer to miss the deadline occasionally.
Bubenik said customers have a number of payment options available, including online, in-person, postal mail, check drop-off and direct account debit.
Robertson noted that he had recently experienced difficulty with the online bill paying system.
Bubenik said the village had recently opted to move to a new vendor for online bill paying and he expected system performance to improve.
Bubenik said a large majority of customers — 75 to 80 percent — regularly pay on time, and he added that the new notice system may give more people incentive to do so.