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City Mops Up Mess Over Water Billing

Quickly Makes Switch to New Contractor
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City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe called it “unfortunate” that Fathom, which handled billing for South Pas water customers, gave little notice it was about to go out of business — but that the city was able to land a new biller and expects “a smooth transition.’’ File Photo

Starting in December, South Pas residents will be receiving their water bills from a new company — Munibilling — after the City Council scrambled last week to approve a substitute billing contractor following the sudden closure of Fathom, formerly Global Water.

Meanwhile, the city is also scrambling to make the transition from Fathom to Munibilling a smooth one, with minimal confusion for customers.

Water rates will not change, and there was no interruption of services, the city said.

While the city operates its own water plant, staffed by city employees, it had contracted out the billing duties to Fathom, a water-resource management company with offices in Texas and Arizona.

However, on Nov. 12, Fathom stunned the city by announcing it was going out of business at the end of November — giving South Pas officials precious little time to find a substitute biller.

But city officials were able to connect quickly with Munibilling — a Greensboro, N.C.-based firm that serves municipal utilities throughout the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom — to take over the billing chores.

The new contract with Munibilling, approved by the City Council last Wednesday, runs for one year, with a city option for two additional years, said Karen Aceves, the city’s acting finance director.

Fathom was charging $4.37 per connection per month. According to Aceves, Munibilling will charge $5 per connection per month for one year, and then $3.99 per connection per month over the next two years, should the city pick up the option.

That second- and third-year drop in price will enable the water rates to stay the same, according to Aceves.

“It was unfortunate that Fathom chose to wait until the 11th hour to inform us they were closing,” City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe said. “However, we were able to quickly find a qualified new vendor. We anticipate a smooth transition as Munibilling steps in.”

Regarding Munibilling, DeWolfe said, “We are pleased that we’ve been able to partner with a vendor with strong qualifications that has been able to transition the city so quickly. We don’t anticipate any glitches in the transition, however both city however both city staff and Munibilling staff are standing by to ensure the process goes smoothly.’’

DeWolfe added: “The city has done extensive outreach in a short period of time to ensure residents are fully prepared for the change.’’

DeWolfe also said that more information on the transition can be found on the city’s webpage at southpasadenaca.gov/residents/water-bill-changes-information.

The council last Wednesday had to add an emergency item to its agenda to tend to the contractor switch, with Mayor Marina Khubesrian — sounding none-too-pleased with Fathom’s sudden announcement — introducing the measure by saying, “It’s a matter of urgency that cannot wait until our next meeting.’’

“Global Water has pulled out with insufficient notice,” Khubesrian said, using the company’s former name.

Aceves told the Review that the city is divided into eight water-billing cycles, with the last one involving Fathom ending on Dec. 4.

Customers who have already paid Fathom for earlier billing cycles will have those payments credited, Aceves said.

“If you already paid Fathom, it’s OK, we already have that information,’’ Aceves said.

Aceves added that payments for pending Fathom bills can be made to Fathom through Nov. 30 — but that payments would be credited more quickly by going directly to the city.

Those payments can be made by mailing a check to South Pasadena City Hall, Atten: Finance Department, 1414 Mission St., South Pasadena 91030, or in person at City Hall (checks and credit cards accepted).

Customers should start seeing updated bills from Munibilling starting the week of Dec. 9, Aceves said.

As for Fathom’s sudden demise, it was a shocker, Aceves said.

“Right now they haven’t given us any reasons for going out of business,’’ Aceves said.

But apparently, Aceves said, “Fathom was undercharging for their services, they were looking for investors, and those investors pulled out.’’

Aceves said that Fathom likely knew it was in trouble as early as this summer but offered no warnings to municipalities.

Meanwhile, the city said residents will be updated by mail regarding future payments to Munibilling.

Kevin Kenney, Review Editor

Kevin Kenney, comes to The Review from the New York Post, where he most recently was an editor and web producer. He had previously been deputy night sports editor of the paper. A native New Yorker who now lives in Burbank, Kenney has also worked for United Press International, Gannett Newspapers, The Bergen Record of New Jersey, Fox Sports, The Santa Clarita Signal and the Southern California News Group, publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News and Orange County Register, among other papers.

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