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Background details on transition of city utility billing to Fathom

Background details on transition of city utility billing to Fathom

On September 25, 2017, the City of Lakewood sent a letter to every water and trash customer explaining that changes are coming to the city’s water and trash utility billing process. The actions you need to take as a customer were included in that letter, but for those residents interested in more background on the decision to make the change to Fathom as a contractor for billing and customer service, here are some details.   

Over a year ago, with the use of federal grant funds that were awarded to Lakewood, the city was able to install 320 high-tech, automatically-read meters at test locations in the city. The decision came about because the city’s current utility customer computer system does not provide the level of service that utility customers should have access to, such as online resources, and the city’s old-style water meters are nearing the end of their useful life. 

Utility field and billing staff found this new “Automated Meter Infrastructure” (AMI) system to be very beneficial in its ability to detect and troubleshoot customer leaks, increase the accuracy of meter-reading data, and improve communication with customers about their water usage.

The enhanced benefits of the AMI system set Lakewood on the path to locate a contractor that could modernize city-owned water meters.

In June 2017, the City Council approved the selection of Fathom to provide utility and trash billing services for the city. Fathom was chosen for its complete suite of software and managed services solutions, including the installation of AMI automatically-read meters, and for Fathom’s ability to be part of Lakewood’s commitment to superior water infrastructure management and customer service. 

No city staff are losing their jobs because of the transition to the automated meters and having Fathom as a contractor to issue the city’s water and trash bills. And the city is not privatizing its water system.

The city and its personnel will continue to staff the wells, pumps, reservoirs, water treatment and testing, distribution pipeline, valve replacement and repairs, planning and administration, and hundreds of other tasks involved with providing water service to Lakewood customers. With the inclusion of Fathom, the only thing that’s changing is having a new city contractor for the billing side of water and trash service, and a partner in providing customer service.

A significant benefit of the new AMI system is the elimination of daily meter-reading tasks. Currently, several city water staff spend mornings reading water meters and afternoons making improvements or preventative maintenance to our water distribution system.

The updated technology means the city and its customers can get meter readings hourly, compared with one reading every two months for over 22,000 meters in Lakewood’s water system.

With the greater efficiency of the AMI meter system, Lakewood staff previously assigned to meter reading will stay with the city and devote more time to working on maintaining water infrastructure, meeting with customers about water conservation, and focusing on cost-saving capital improvement planning. City staff previously assigned to billing functions will continue to work on other city financial tasks and customer service duties. The city does not have a large utility billing staff, as the city had previously utilized another contractor for that function.  

“Smart meter technology will help me do my job better because I am able to respond to customer questions the same day instead of a few days later,” said Sue Lane, a 22-year City of Lakewood senior water utility worker and Lakewood resident (photo above). “Customers who were part of the pilot system were able to view their water use online hourly and set water-use targets. Also, for years customers wanted more flexibility on how to pay their utility bills and now they have that ability!”

Sue remembers when meters were read with paper and pencil. “Then we went to using hand-held electronic devices that streamlined meter reading,” she said. “Now we are moving into the 21st century with real-time, automated meter reading and communication data that will really help our customers understand their water use like never before.”

Another benefit of the new billing system is that customers can retain their traditional payment methods but will now have new convenient options for paying their utility bill if they choose, including:

  • Pay at the City Hall counter—just as before
  • Pay by mail—just as before
  • Pay by telephone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—a new free service for customers
  • Paperless online billing—just as before
  • Pay online by one-time or recurring credit or debit card—just as before
  • Pay online by electronic check—just as before
  • Pay online by ACH—just as before
  • Pay by smartphone or tablet using the Fathom App—a new free service for customers

Lakewood’s long history and tradition of service-provision innovation

Lakewood was founded in 1954 as the first “contract city,” and became famous over time for its flexibility in finding a good balance between the use of contractors, city staff and other government agencies to deliver the best possible services to our residents. The City of Lakewood does that with trash service, street sweeping, law enforcement and other city services. This use of the contract company Fathom, alongside (not in place of) our city water staff, is just another example of how Lakewood has put the contract city model to use for the benefit of our residents.  

Residents can be assured that Lakewood’s legendary customer service is not going away, and residents can still pay their bills the same way that they have been paying them, including by mail or with city employees at the City Hall public counter. 

Residents can also still call or visit City Hall for water billing or usage questions. What is changing is that Lakewood resident phone calls will go to Fathom’s professional U.S. call center that specializes in water and trash billing where resident calls will be answered much faster than was possible with Lakewood’s previous system. In addition, a live representative will now be available for emergency after-hours calls. That will be a big improvement in customer service for Lakewood residents. 

If you have further questions about Lakewood’s new contractor for water and trash billing and the new automatically-read water meters coming to Lakewood, please feel free to contact city hall staff at 562-866-9771, extension 2140 or email at service1@lakewoodcity.org