Drowning in my water bill | EVERYTHING BREMERTON
By COLLEEN SMIDT
Bremerton Patriot Community Columnist
July 26, 2012 · Updated 9:13 AM
As a Bremerton resident and property owner, I fully understand that my property and utility taxes pay directly for operations and services that are important and necessary to my own household and to the entire community.
I am able and willing to pay my fair share and I support certain fees and or increases that invest in the city’s infrastructure for the next generation or bring about certain aesthetic improvements to be enjoyed now.
That said, the two month utility billing system is outdated, has been outgrown by the sheer size of the amount that is due at any one time and is yet another burden on median-income households that are seriously struggling from paycheck to paycheck to meet their basic monthly obligations.
As an experiment, I took my own bill, the one I received last week, with a due date of Aug. 9 and for 20 minutes tried to use the City of Bremerton website to reconcile the charges on my bill with a more detailed explanation of what exactly I was paying for and where exactly all the money was going within the city budget.
I could not do it. And the inability to decipher it comes despite a private sector job that requires me to undertake a certain amount of corporate bookkeeping tasks, three years of service on the Bremerton School District Finance Committee, service this past year on the Kitsap County Budget Committee and a higher than average attendance and involvement with City Council meetings and study sessions, I still could not figure it all out. That is not acceptable.
The City of Bremerton announced this spring that it has budgeted $100,000 to conduct a utility rate study. Some aspects of the rate study are to include, communicating the value of utility services and cost, the layout of the bill and messaging to the community.
That is all fine and good, but if city leadership really wants to help and assist the pressed and struggling citizens of Bremerton in stabilizing their household budgets with increased consistency and improved understanding of what they are getting for their money then change the utility billing to monthly and add a line item breakdown of where every penny goes.
Did you even know that the city already has the ability and system in place to accept online payments for utility bills? I did not know that. It is not even mentioned directly in the verbiage on the back of the billing statement. Only a vague reference to automatic payments with a city number to call appears there and frankly that inspires no one.
Residents who desire to pay online want to do so to avoid or reduce their in person interaction with city personnel not to engage in more of it. To add insult a $3.85 convenience fee is a requirement to make online utility payments. Yes, online payers are charged a convenience fee for a system that should be in place to reduce paper waste and staff interaction time.
I sincerely hope that an opportunity is created by this utility rate study, rather than it being wasted or squandered. That a better structured, easier to understand, transparent and more efficient system of rates and payment options emerges from the other side to best serve the hardworking citizens of this community.