ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT POLICY
Administrative Rule Adopted by Council
The Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services are authorized to charge for the services they provide, adjust ratepayer accounts, shut off service for nonpayment and provide administrative review upon request. (City Code Sections 3.24.020, 3.24.030, 21.16.040, 21.16.120, 17.36.100 and 17.36.130). City Code Section 3.24.030 authorizes the Customer Services Group of the Portland Water Bureau to perform billing, collection and account management functions for these bureaus, respond to ratepayer inquiries and manage financial assistance programs.
To define payment expectations and options available to holders of City water and/or sewer accounts and to ensure appropriate and consistent application of payment policies by City staff.
- To inform account holders the outstanding balances on water, sewer and stormwater accounts are payable on or before the due date.
- To provide operating principles to assist account holders in keeping their accounts current and avoiding delinquency fees, shut-off or other adverse account actions.
- To inform account holders of charges for actions related to collections. Those charges are designed to cover administrative costs of debt recovery and provide an incentive to account holders to remain current and avoid delinquent conditions.
- To promote collection of past due amounts in a manner protective of both the rights of the account holder and the public resource through the use of various financial assistance methods including but not limited to: payment plans, discounts or one-time vouchers available for low income households.
- To provide an appeal process for account holders who have been unable to resolve billing issues or believe they are not responsible for an outstanding account balance.
- To avoid late charges, delinquency penalties and/or service interruptions, an account must be paid in full by the due date or an approved payment arrangement must be established.
- If an account has reached shut off status only one time during the previous 12 months, the service may be restored with a promise to pay 50% of the balance owing within three (3) business days and a payment arrangement made for the remaining balance.
- If an account has reached shut off status more than once during the previous 12 months, 50% of the balance owing must be posted to the account and a payment arrangement made for the remaining balance prior to the restoration of service.
- If collection efforts extend beyond shut off status (i.e., meter tampering or meter removal), a payment equaling 100% of the outstanding balance on the account must be posted to the account prior to the restoration of service.
BILLING SCHEDULE AND FEES
The billing schedule, carrying charges and fees on past due accounts and the fees for restoring water service after normal business hours will be published in the annual Rate Ordinance. Information related to the schedule and fees will be made available to the public via printed material and the Portland Water Bureau's web site.
Waivers for fees may be allowed on the following basis:
- Fees for carrying charges, reminder, urgent and pre-shut off notices and for water shut off may be waived once every twelve months.
- Fees accrued for actions after shut off, including meter tampering and meter removal or for returned payment items will not be waived.
- No other fee waivers will be granted unless an error has been made by the Bureau. Fees applied in error will be corrected and a note of such action noted in the account record.
Account holders, or parties authorized to act on their behalf, are entitled to make payment arrangements for water, sewer and stormwater services under the following guidelines:
- Active Accounts
For active accounts, payment is due 21 days after the date of billing.
Residential account holders wishing to manage their accounts by making equal monthly payments may contact Portland Water Bureau Customer Service to request Budget Billing. The amount paid monthly is calculated using normal average usage over the preceding twelve (12) months. The monthly Budget Billing amount will be adjusted annually based on actual usage. Only accounts with a zero balance are eligible for Budget Billing.
Any account holder unable to pay an outstanding balance when due may contact Portland Water Bureau Customer Service during normal business hours to make payment arrangements or to request a payment plan. Account holders will be encouraged to arrange for the shortest payment time possible.
Account holders who are billed monthly may request payment arrangements to extend the due date up to an additional 30 days.
Accounts holders who are billed bimonthly or quarterly may request payment arrangements extending over the current billing period when necessary. Payment arrangements will require the outstanding balance to be paid in full 14 days prior to the next bill date.
Account holders who default on a payment arrangement will not be offered additional payment arrangements for the current balance until all missed payments are made.
Back Billed Accounts
Account holders receiving a bill delayed or adjusted for a period greater than six months due to an error on the part of the City may establish a payment plan to pay off the balance over a period not to exceed six months. The plan will be calculated to remove the arrears amount within the agreed time period. Regularly scheduled bills must continue to be paid by the established due date. Bills delayed or adjusted for a period of six months or less must be paid before the next billing cycle.
Bills delayed or adjusted due to an error on the part of the account holder must be paid before the next billing cycle.
If an account holder defaults on a payment arrangement, additional payment arrangements will not be offered for the current balance until all missed payments are made.
Final Billed Accounts
Portland Water Bureau Customer Service is not authorized to make payment arrangements for account holders who have received a final bill.
Account holders having financial difficulty making payments and who are income-eligible will be offered an opportunity to enroll in the Water/Sewer Bill Discount Program. The City sets eligibility standards but does not determine who is eligible for financial assistance. Interested parties will be referred to the appropriate agency for evaluation. The agency will review the application, make the eligibility determination and notify the City or provide the applicant with the approved paperwork to return to the City.
When financial assistance eligibility is confirmed, recurring discounts on water and sewer bill charges will be provided for a two-year predetermined period. Prior to the end of the eligibility period, Portland Water Bureau Customer Service will send a reminder letter with a renewal application notifying the program participant of the approaching termination date. An individual wishing to continue in the program may reapply through one of the approved agencies or return the renewal application with the appropriate income documentation. The discount amount may be adjusted annually and will be published in the water and sewer Rate Ordinances. Information related to the discount will be made available to the public via printed material and on the Portland Water Bureau's web site.
If an account holder is potentially eligible for financial assistance but has not applied for the discount program, Portland Water Bureau Customer Service will place a 2-week hold on collection actions to allow for completion of the application and review process. If the applicant qualifies for the financial assistance program, the process described above will be followed.
Annual Crisis Vouchers are also available to income-eligible individuals who are enrolled in the discount program and either in the collection process or already shut off. The maximum amount allowable for a Crisis Voucher per 12-month period is established by the City Council. A co-payment of predetermined amount is required prior to application of the Crisis Voucher to the account. If the account balance is less than the allowable $150, no more than the amount due on the account AFTER the co-payment has been applied will be allowed as a Crisis Voucher. If the account has an outstanding balance after the voucher is applied, the account holder will be expected to make appropriate payment arrangements for the remaining balance.
The Utility Safety Net Assistance Program is a financial solution program providing short term assistance during a temporary crisis. The program offers a one time initial credit of $50.00. The outstanding balance on the account after the successful completion of an established payment plan will be reduced by 50% or $300, whichever is less. The program was approved by Council in June 2007 and is designed for eligible account holders who do not have any other financial assistance options available to them. Applicants accepted into the program must provide documentation to show they meet qualifying criteria but do not have to be enrolled in the Water/Sewer Bill Discount Program.
Tampering with a meter or illegally using water or sewer services will disqualify a program participant from receiving financial assistance for a period of one year from the date of discovery.
The Portland Water Bureau may make adjustments, pay refunds or waive fees and charges where it is deemed necessary for the proper conduct of the business of the Bureau. Adjustments will be in the form of credits or additional charges to an active account. When the adjustment is a credit to an account that is no longer active, that credit will be applied to the account holder's new residence if it is in our service area or a refund will be issued if the account holder can be located.
When it has been determined that a billing error for water and/or sewer services has occurred, the account may be adjusted for the period of the billing error not to exceed three years from the date the Bureau received notice of the error. The period of a billing adjustment will be based on the date the error occurred as verified by City billing records. Eligibility for an adjustment on an account will end six months after the date a final bill was issued for that account.
If an account was not billed because the Bureau was not notified of the water user's responsibility for payment, the Bureau will issue the bill from the date the party became legally responsible for the bill.
Refunds are issued on a case-by-case basis by authorized Customer Service staff. They may be initiated by account holder request or by staff reviews of accounts with credit balances. If an account holder has another account, the credit balance will be transferred to that account.
Portland Water Bureau Customer Service is dedicated to resolving account holder issues and inquiries as quickly as possible. In order to do this, staff will routinely consider Bureau policies, account history and special circumstances when an account holder disputes a bill or cites an inability to make timely payments. Account holders requesting exceptions to normal policies will be referred through an escalating management review. Those account holders wishing to request a formal review of an account balance or billing issue or to challenge a shutoff action may file an appeal in accordance with Appeal Policy ADM-14.02.
Customer Services Group Director
Resolution No. 36383, adopted by City Council March 1, 2006.
Amended by Resolution No. 36624, adopted by City Council July 16, 2008 and effective August 15, 2008.