Medford considers separating utility bills

Creating a separate utility bill for sewers, streets, storm drains and other city fees could cost the city of Medford about $300,000, but would give the city a long-term boost in managing its billing process.

The Medford City Council will consider the expense Thursday as it contemplates separating its billing from the current Medford Water Commission bill that residents receive every month.

Upgrading city software to handle the new billing would cost $220,058, but the city might have to pay the Water Commission up to $100,000 for the work it has undertaken for its own new billing system.

Allison Chan, city finance director, said the $100,000 reimbursement to the Water Commission is likely a high number, and she anticipates it should come in lower than that.

The city has more complex billing requirements than the Water Commission, Chan said. In addition to other fees, such as public safety and park utilities, the city has special fees on certain residents for pedestrian street lights and home-based business.

Some apartment owners have requested a more sophisticated billing so that each individual tenant would receive a separate bill from the city for services rather than the current method that sends a bill for an entire complex, in some cases.

The cost of the SunGard billing system is partly due to the specialized application as well as the extensive tracking, history and reporting required. The cost would include training and installation from SunGard.

On an average water bill, about $12 is collected for water, while fees charged by the city range between $30 and $40.

The Water Commission has been installing a new computer management system that includes a new billing feature. The cost of the system, which also keeps track of engineering and other systems at the Water Commission, is about $2 million.

If the city were to continue working with the Water Commission, it would have to provide additional money to upgrade the software to handle its specific billing needs.

By going with its own software, the city can improve cash flow and incorporate the utility billing directly into other software the city uses for its financial dealings.

Other complexities in the city's fees could also be captured in the new billing system.

For instance, the city has been looking for a better way to charge street fees for drive-through coffee shops, which pay less than a single-family house but generate far more traffic.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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