GRU diverts efforts to deal with late bills

GRU sign
Photo by Suzette Cook

Personnel shortages have pushed Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) more than a week late in sending out bills for November, impacting around 5,166 customers across the city.   

“The workload is just coming in faster than we can get them out,” Kinn’zon Hutchinson, GRU’s chief customer officer, said in a phone interview.  

He said the utility has shifted personnel internally to tackle the problem and noted that despite challenges, GRU has remained on track for more than 95% of its customers. Hutchinson said GRU has also tried adjusted pay to retain positions, but he noted that shortages across the city, county and nation have given employees lots of options.  

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“We’ve ultimately decided to redivert efforts to really try to hone in on getting a grasp around this so customers do get their bills and that they’re not overcharged as well,” Hutchinson said. 

GRU chief customer officer Kinn’zon Hutchinson
Courtesy City of Gainesville Kinn’zon Hutchinson

Hutchinson said GRU plans to have the bills sent in the coming weeks but encouraged effected customers to send in partial payments, roughly their monthly bill, to start. Once the bills come out, they’ll reflect the payments. The utility will also set up a payment plan for customers thrown off their economic schedule by the delay. 

Hutchinson said a full staff of meter readers would be around 22-24 employees. Without that full complement, the company estimates some utility bills. When this happens, GRU checks the meter for the next month and adjusts the bill accordingly.  

He said estimating meters also prevents bills that come from a 34-, 35- or 36-day bill. Longer billing cycles contributed to high bills over the summer.  

However, Hutchinson said the system clamps down on those estimated bills because the numbers seem off. The design prevents an automatic bill from being sent with incorrect numbers but also forces GRU employees to send out estimated bills manually. For November’s bills, the number overwhelmed staff.   

“To protect the customer, we manually lay eyes on it, and so that’s what’s been creating delay,” Hutchinson said. 

GRU expects to return to the normal timing for December, and the holidays shouldn’t impact customers, he said.  

Looking to next year, GRU hopes to ramp up its distribution of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). These meters send the water or electricity usage wirelessly to GRU and the customer, allowing accurate measurement each month along with reads throughout the month.  

As the AMI network builds out, Hutchinson said the meter readers will have less pressure and eventually transition to other functions.  

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Timothy Rogers

They can either do it right or keep making excuses, estimated bills should not be a thing and anyone who receives their bill late should not have to worry about late fees or power cutoffs just because because of a company who doesn’t care about its customers enough to do things right.

Ken Duffield

In the past I have received a letter stating my payment was late but if it was in process disregard the letter. I’m never late. Some time later after receiving another letter I happened to check my bill, there are lots of itemized lines, I discovered a late fee.

When I inquired at GRU how this happened I got a very polite but zero checking of my account, “just pay early”the ladies told.

I went to my CU, across the street from GRU, and asked why the payment was late. My CU connected with the firm in Jacksonville that aggregates funds from multiple banking institution. They were able to tell me down to the second when funds moved and GRU was notified about my particular payment, TWO days early.

I contacted Annie Orlando she contacted GRU and I met with a Guy there, I think his name was Sheppard. He had no intention of digging into the matter, I’d say he was GRU’s Damage Control guy. Again advice to allow GRU automatic entry into my account or pay early but zero attempt to find why an early payment was posted late and a late fee applied to my account.

I have to ask how often this happens? It feels fraudulent but I’d chalk it up to incompetence and seems ongoing with GRU accounting. I. Suspect the few times I got “the letter” I was charged a late fee though I only checked one time. Makes you wonder how many customers are getting dinged by this lack of competence at GRU accounting.

Angela Casteel

I believe you can pull records on your account. I would do just that. And then I would bring that and the proof from your bank to the UAB infront of Anthony Cunningham…ask why the employees do not want to dig any deeper than what they did. Put pressure on him and make it known on social media that is what you intend to do. Make a loud impact, then let them know you expect your late fees back…