Billing system causes concern with property owners and tenants

Some Renton residents might have seen a change in their billing system since the city switched from Waste Management to Republic Services in February.

At an April 17 Committee of the Whole meeting, Solid Waste Coordinator Linda Knight walked the council through “some unanticipated challenges,” referring to the Republic Services billing system that restricts multiple residents from being billed on the same account. This means solid waste bills are now sent to property owners, not the tenants.

“Because we have these limitations and due to the fact that garbage is a lienable service and that the city has liability with notifying property owners, the city took the stance or determined we would bill property owners,” said Knight at the meeting, adding that staff of solid waste, finance, legal and Republic Service are working to find a long-term solutions.

Kinght explained over the phone the city moved away from the combined utility billing system to simplify customer experience and give them a “one-stop shop.” Before switching to Republic Service, Waste Management kept all the collection records and data, and would send it over to utility billing on a monthly basis. When residents would call the city with questions about their bills, they were shuffled around since utility billing staff didn’t have any background data.

The city switched to the contractor billing because “it would lessen the confusion for customers.”

She also said that there is language in the contract with Republic Services that allows the city to go back to the utility billing system.

When asked what are some of the options to move forward, Knight said she didn’t have any answers to offer currently.

“We haven’t had a chance to sit down and examine the different suggestions and how they will protect the city these liabilities, and lessen the burden for some property owners,” she said.

Councilman Armondo Pavone asked whether this issue was an oversight. Knight said it wasn’t an oversight but a detail that wouldn’t have been realized until you “get into the nitty gritty that you learn what the limitations of the systems are.”

“You could go into the negotiations thinking that your systems are very similar and you have the similar capabilities, only to learn when you’re deeper into it that you don’t have the same capabilities,” she continued. “Maybe we should have thought through it a little more clearly, I don’t know. All I can say is that we’ve identified it as an issue and we’re trying to work for solutions to the problem.”

Councilman Don Persson said at the meeting that this was an issue that could have been avoided if the city council was notified earlier.

“I asked Republic early on can my tenant pay the bill and I was told yes,” he said at the meeting. “Then all of a sudden, internally in the city, it was decided they couldn’t. At least the council should have been told when that issue was first came up and not hearing it when we started setting up accounts.”

According to Knight, the council was informed of the issue in earlier Committee of the Whole meetings late last year.

“This is not the customer’s fault. This is not the resident’s fault,” said councilwoman Ruth Perez at the meeting. “If we can make sure not to give them excuses and give them answers so they can at least understand that we have a problem, the city made a mistake, own our mistakes and then try to help them.”

“I have full confidence that staff and Republic are going to be able to get this taken care of, I really do,” said Pavone over the phone. “The council voiced the opinion last night that it’s an important issue to find a solution that works with Republic and the city.”

Knight also walked through issues that arose during the customer and route data transfer from Waste Management to Republic Services, including missed pickup, wrong size car delivered, limited access to customer addresses, walk-in services not being noted and unassigned senior rates.

She talked about the low-hanging, non-compliant utility lines that are getting snagged by the garbage trucks, and that the department is working with Republic Services and utility companies to fix the problem.