A change to the Metropolitan Utilities District billing system has increased the chance that a customer might see two bills due in the same month.
This can be a hardship for fixed-income customers such as Janet Hudson, who has lived in her southwest Omaha home for 40 years. Twice last year — in October and December — she had two bills with due dates in the same month.
That was a problem for Hudson, a widow and pensioner who will be 67 this week, because the government check that covers most of her expenses doesn't land till the first of the month.
“My cupboard is bare,” she said. “I'm like these college kids — I'll eat ramen soup.”
MUD representatives waived her late fees and encouraged her to sign up for the utility's level billing plan, in which customers are billed a steady monthly rate based on average annual usage. There are no late fees for customers enrolled in that plan.
Hudson takes advantage of a similar program offered by the Omaha Public Power District but said it doesn't make financial sense to do the same with MUD. Her part-time income as a bus attendant for the Millard school district dries up in the summer, when her MUD bill is lower because she's not heating her home.
“That's when I don't have any extra income, because school is out,” she said. “It's less for me to pay in the summer. ... I shouldn't be made to feel like I should have to go on that payment plan.”
MUD divides its customers into 20 billing cycles based on where they fall in the district's 200-square-mile coverage area. Bills come due 15 days after they're issued, and there's a 10-day grace period before the district sends a shutoff notice.
The setup is designed to give each customer 12 bills each year spaced roughly 30 days apart — but that doesn't always happen, because of weather, holidays and other scheduling constraints, said Rhonda Chantry, the district's vice president of rates, regulatory affairs and revenue.
The district's new billing system, implemented last summer, is more efficient because it send out bills as soon as a customer's meter is read. Before, customers were billed manually, in batches, Chantry said.
But it also means that employees have less control over when bills are issued. Chantry didn't know how many customers have gotten two bills in the same month, but said complaints have been rare.
With the new system, the district can't just push the due date back, Chantry said.
“Our billing system is not that flexible.”
But she said the district will waive late fees on request for customers who have trouble paying two bills in one month — something it already did on a case-by-case basis, but which is now written policy.