LA utility spent $162M on troubled billing system

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Los Angeles Department of Water and Power  (AP Photo)

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A new Los Angeles Department of Water and Power computerized billing system that has overcharged customers and sparked a flood of complaints has cost more than twice the $59 million initially cited by the agency.

The agency on Friday estimated spending $162 million on the system, nearly $99 million of which was spent on software, hardware and outside consultants. Another $63 million was spent on labor costs for DWP employees who were diverted from their regular duties to help roll out the program.

The agency said an additional $8 million has been allocated to deal with problems but hasn’t been spent yet.

All those costs were approved by the City Council, DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo told the Los Angeles Daily News.

The agency initially had mentioned only the $59 million cost of its contract with PriceWaterhouseCoopers to develop the system.

The agency rolled out the computerized billing, meter reading and customer service system in September to replace a 39-year-old setup, but it quickly led to a slew of complaints. The DWP said Friday that 3 to 5 percent of its 1.4 million customers have seen incorrect bills, delayed bills and late notices.

The agency was swamped with complaints, with many callers complaining of being stuck on hold for too long.

Councilman Mitch Englander proposed that the DWP put a moratorium on any disconnection notices until the problems with the billing system are worked out.

“I continue to receive an unprecedented level of phone calls from DWP ratepayers who are unable to resolve billing conflicts or inaccuracies and are being subjected to hour-and-a-half telephone hold times and long lines at DWP service centers,” Englander said.

A DWP statement said the switchover to the new system has gone well overall and “significant progress” has been made in correcting problems. It apologized to customers who were inconvenienced.

“Any time an information system of this size and scope is replaced, issues will arise and need to be addressed as the system is implemented and stabilized,” the agency said. It added that most problems typically surface within the first 60 days.

The agency said it will roll out a system next week that allows customers to get a call back instead of waiting to talk to a representative.

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