City of Yelm officials and Yelm City Council members learned earlier this month that a new software system that was supposed to bill high-consuming customers a wastewater treatment charge failed to do so, resulting in a total of $73,975 in lost funds over a five-month period.
Yelm Mayor JW Foster said the city is currently working with those customers, mostly businesses, to work out a repayment period of six months. Because the mistake was made by city officials during the transition, customers repaying will not be penalized or charged interest based on those missed expenses.
About 80 customers owed an average of about $900 in wastewater charges. Funds owed individually also ranged anywhere from 39 cents to $9,286 per customer, said City Administrator Michael Grayum.
A wastewater treatment charge of $7.83 per cubic foot of wastewater is established when a customer surpasses use of more than 875 cubic feet monthly, Grayum said. Not every customer fits the wastewater consumption rates to meet the additional charge. The businesses that do have continued to pay their base rate, but not the additional charge.
Grayum, currently the interim public works director and interim finance director, said the mistake was preventable and should have been caught by either city officials or the vendor.
“Frankly, our public works directors should have caught it, our finance director should have caught it and our utility clerk should have caught it,” Grayum said. “Every process and transition comes with hiccups. This just happened to be a really big one.”
During the May 14 city council meeting, councilmember Joe DePinto suggested mitigating rates temporarily for those 80 customers during their planned payment period. Grayum said the council has the legislative authority to adjust rates if it sees fit.