Via Seattle Times: Seattle’s new billing system for its public-utilities customers will launch a year or more behind schedule and cost at least $34 million more than initially projected.
The project to build a new billing and information system for Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities — approved by then-Mayor Mike McGinn and the City Council in 2012 — was initially budgeted at $66 million, the utilities said Thursday.
The system was scheduled to launch in October, but changes in the project’s scope led the City Council in November to approve a revised budget of $85 million with an April launch, City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen said. The changes were related to identity protection for customers, regulatory requirements and testing, Thomsen said.
The launch is now being postponed again to allow for even more testing, which will cost an additional $3 million to $4 million per month, Public Utilities spokesman Andy Ryan said.
The updated schedule calls for the system to launch this fall, meaning the price tag for the project will grow to more than $100 million, Ryan said.
The postponement won’t change the current rates for electricity, water and waste-collection customers because City Light and Public Utilities will use savings from their other capital projects to balance their existing budgets, Thomsen and Ryan said Thursday.
But when asked for the maximum the project could cost, they declined to specify. City officials described their decision to conduct more testing as a prudent step, citing problems utilities in other cities had in launching new billing systems.
Billing errors after a 2013 launch have cost Los Angeles’ water utility $181 million, with a state audit blaming the city for implementing it too quickly, City Light and Public Utilities said. “We’ve seen what has happened elsewhere when a billing system is rushed into use,” City Light General Manager Larry Weis said in a statement. “We cannot afford to make that mistake. We’re going to take the time that’s necessary to do this right.”
Councilmember Lisa Herbold said Thursday she wants to work with other council members to create a new oversight and accountability mechanism for the city’s major capital projects. The District 1 representative said she plans to request an “after-action” report on the billing-system project “outlining both lessons learned and best practices.”
The new system will replace 15-year-old technology, City Light and Public Utilities said. It will process about 5.5 million bills and collect about $1.8 billion in revenue each year.
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