JOHNSONBURG--The final Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) report is all that is standing in the way of the Johnsonburg Municipal Authority (JMA) turning on and using the new water treatment plant. The project, 8 years in the making, has all of the substantial construction complete but has yet to receive final approval from the DEP (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection). Pennsylvania Senator Cris Dush, who represents the region, was thanked by the Authority for reaching out to them and setting up a meeting later in the week to try to expedite the process.
The JMA Board held a special meeting on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at its Market Street location in Johnsonburg. The resignation of the office staff has brought to the forefront the ongoing issue of addressing an aging billing system and its integration into the brand new water plant. As a result of the recently completed audit, and similar results from previous years, several options were presented to the Authority board.
JMA Manager Dan Newell noted that hiring new office staff and training them would take several months, and would still not address the underlying issues with the aging billing system. Reaching out to the Ridgway Borough Municipal Authority, brought Newell into contact with Diversified Billing, managed by Diversified Technology Corporation of Bloomsburg PA. This software development organization has more than 30 years of experience serving the billing, accounting, and information technology needs of the Pennsylvania utilities, municipalities, and authorities, including Ridgway. Bobbi Joe Broyles of Diversified Billing, appearing by Zoom gave a presentation to the board on what would happen over the next two months if the JMA decided to go with their companies.
Mary Maloney and Angel Fritz of Northwest Bank in Johnsonburgh explained the time-consuming and confusing process the local branch has to go through to take water payments from walk-in customers under the old system, including separate ledgers for each teller and customer, and the up to three days of processing time in the taking of payment to it being posted to the system at the JMA. After years of doing this at a minimal service fee of $150 a month for the JMA, the Bank is estimating up to $750 a month in fees moving forward if the board decides to keep the system in place.
Broyles of Diversified Billing produced a sample copy of a water bill that their system would produce monthly for JMA Customers. It is almost identical to Ridgway's and provides much more information to customers every month, along with the added convenience of 24/7 online support by phone or through the website. A graphic of water consumption over the past six months will allow customers to track patterns and notice any major changes that might indicate a leak or other problems in their home. This data would also assist the JMA in tracking water usage, especially surges in volume that are indicative of a problem on the customers' end, or major discrepancies between customer use and water produced by the new plant that could help them narrow down leaks quicker in service lines. This data can also be used by the Engineers and plant managers to make changes in the water and wastewater systems during major rain events or drought, which were common issues for the JMA in the past, leading to turbidity or contaminant issues with DEP.
A lengthy discussion, lasting over an hour, took place with board members asking and second-guessing every possibility or question that customers could have over the next two months as the system was put into place. Finally, a plan was presented and voted in with a 5-2 vote with board members Travis Weaver and Dennis Asti voting against the proposal.
The new System will be implemented over the next two months, with multiple letters describing the process to customers. After two months payments will no longer be accepted at Northwest Bank or the Authority headquarters on Market Street. As was explained billing will take place online or by mail exclusively, much like the Electric or National Fuel bills customers pay every month in Johnsonburg. Diversified Billing will handle all phone calls about billing, and will work with customers on payment plans if they fall behind on their accounts. Payments may be made through direct debits from checking accounts, physical checks mailed to the JMA in care of Diversified Billing, or by credit card. Letters will be mailed out to all customers over the next several weeks to inform the customers of the coming changes and allow for an easy transfer to the system.
The next scheduled meeting of the JMA will take place July 9, beginning at 4 p.m. at the Municipal Authority Office on Market Street.