Representation of municipal utilities in state and federal government is a key service of MEUW. Advocacy efforts include meeting with state legislators and members of the executive branch of government, reviewing legislation and rules, testifying before legislative committees and negotiating contracts. We help our members succeed in an evolving policy environment and work to ensure that future policies support the needs of the industry.
Workplace safety is vitally important to municipal utilities. MEUW is committed to providing professional safety instruction and education. Over 100 communities belong to MEUWs safety services, all working to provide a safe working environment. And, in the true spirit of cooperation, MEUW members are invited to participate in the associations mutual aid program providing disaster assistance to any member community in need of emergency support.
The 2015 Accounting and Customer Service Seminar was held Sept. 23 in Wisconsin Dells and was very well attended with 109 in attendance representing 62 communities. There were many hot topics on the agenda this year that updated utility personnel on regulatory and legislative issues impacting their utilities.
The Department of Revenue (DOR) has worked very hard to improve collection efficiencies through both expanded legislative authority and new technology. Presenters Joseph Mugenga and Rick Karls from the DOR shared these efficiencies regarding the State Debt Collection program hoping to help enhance current collections operations for municipal utilities. As a municipal utility, you can partner with the DOR to improve the efficiency of collection of your outstanding debt.
Jodi Dobson from Baker Tilly highlighted some of the changes that utilities will see in the annual report to the Public Service Commission (PSC) this year. In addition, she discussed best practices in sharing financial information with a governing body including types of communications as well as how to assess if the information is providing value.
In preparation for this year's PSC report there is some new information that will be required and now is the time to think about how that will be gathered. Attendees were reminded that there is no one-size-fits-all in reporting to a governing body - the information desired, level of detail and level of explanation all change with changes in the governing body. The key to ensuring that the members have the information they need to govern is to ask.
Lawrie Kobza reviewed Act 274 provisions with attendees and discussed the new tax roll and tenant lien requirements and the challenges that utilities may face in complying with these new requirements. Act 274 did not change the ability of municipal utilities to place delinquent utility bills on the property tax rolls, but did add some requirements for certain properties and customers where the landlord has triggered the application of additional landlord/tenant requirements. It is important that utilities are knowledgeable on Act 274. MEUW, Wisconsin Rural Water Association, Municipal Environmental Group - Water, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities and the Wisconsin Section of AWWA have prepared several documents that provide complete guidance on how to comply with the tax roll provisions of Act 274. They can be found under the resource center on MEUW’s website.
Presenter Scott Munn took attendees through the importance of eliminating bad debt. He showed the value of a risk-based deposit policy for municipal utilities and discussed ID validation and the collection of bad debt. By gaining as much information about your service applicants as you can, you are able to provide a more equitable deposit system.
Presenter Kristy Nieto from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin's Consumer Affairs Unit wrapped up the seminar with an overview of utility requirements for handling common customer service issues. Topics included 21-day medical extensions, requesting customer information on applications for service, identifying a responsible party for billing and transferring previous past-due balances to a customer's new account. Attendees had a chance to ask questions and get clarity on a number of issues.
A key take-away for attendees was the importance of maintaining billing and collection policies that are non-discriminatory and in compliance with relevant Wis. Admin. Code and statutory provisions. Utilities should contact the commission for clarification when faced with questions regarding utility customer service requirements.