Software glitch thought to be cause of drop in Libby’s sewer revenue

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After about 18 months of going back-and-forth with its accounting and billing software provider, Libby city officials believe they finally have fixed an issue that caused sewer revenues to appear to decline — an issue officials attribute to the provider and say caused them to lay off an employee.

“We (had) noticed that the sewer revenue had been declining every year and we were trying to figure out the reason why,” said Audray J. McCollum, the city’s clerk and treasurer, at an Oct. 24 meeting of the City Council’s water and sewer committee.

McCollum said they city called Black Mountain Software of Polson — which provides Libby’s accounting and billing software — “several times … (but) we could never get anybody on the phone that could understand what was going on.”

Finally, McCollum said they “were able to get a hold of the right person” who found that the software was not properly accounting for the city’s 940 credits — a monthly credit of $9.40 per customer put in place to help offset a rate increase that followed construction of Flower Creek Dam.

“For some reason, when they did the program, it wasn’t putting funds where they correctly should have gone,” McCollum said.

Despite their hunch the problem has been fixed, said they were told it would take at least a few months — possibly up to a year — to know for sure.

“There’s a certain lag time between the billing and the receipts coming in,” explained City Council President Peggy Williams at the Oct. 24 meeting. “We should be able to see something in two months, but we need a full year to know what (sewer revenue) perhaps should have been. But we should be able to make a determination within a couple months whether it’s working or not.”

A little more than a month later, at the committee’s Dec. 5 meeting, City Administrator Jim Hammons said the before-and-after difference due to the software adjustment was “just night and day.”

Hammons and committee member Gary Beach noted the city hadn’t been losing money.

“It wasn’t going in the right drawers,” Beach said, adding that the city had been perplexed why sewer revenue were decreasing even though the number of customers and levels of expenses had remained fairly steady.

Hammons said as a result of the apparant decline in revenue, they city last August had to let go of a fulltime “floater” employee who was split between the streets and sewer departments.

At the time, “we would have went in the red instantly had we kept that employee,” Hammons said. “We were that close.”

McCollum, at the Dec. 5 meeting, also noted that the software hadn’t been billing customers for the interest on late fees “for about three years.”

Black Mountain Software did not respond to two emails requesting comment.

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