When Sandra Schoch opened her father's recent Lodi Electric Utility bill, she was confused because there was no due date.
Starting in September, Lodi residents started receiving utility bills that said "due upon receipt."
Schoch said she did not remember receiving a letter explaining the change. She worries that residents will not be able to keep track of when the bill is due and be charged a late fee, especially seniors like her father, who has dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
"For people who don't understand it, it might catch them off guard ... It's just one more thing to tack on to somebody. We all have a lot to think about, let alone that, too," she said.
Here's some basic information on the change:
Q: Why did the city make the change?
A: Deputy City Manager Jordan Ayers recently realized that the city was not in compliance with a 1991 ordinance on when bills were due, while reviewing city code for another issue, he said.
Bills are "due and payable upon receipt thereof, at the finance department, City Hall, Lodi, California," the 1991 ordinance reads.
"What we are trying to do is bring ourselves in line with our ordinance," Ayers said.
Q: When does my bill become delinquent?
A: The ordinance says that bills become delinquent 20 days after the post-mark.
Before bills were due 21 days after the billing date, so the time frame has not significantly changed, Ayers said.
Q: Why were residents not informed of the change?
A: The bills sent out in September could have caused some of the confusion, Ayers said.
The front of the bill said it was due upon receipt, but the back of the bills had old language that said residents needed to send in the bills by the due date that should be listed on the front.
"We went out to the printer to get the back sides of the bill changed, and we were a little ahead of ourselves," Ayers said.
As the city finishes out the old stock of bills, Ayers said the backs of the bills will have the new language that also says the bills are "due upon receipt."
Q: Will this save the city money?
A: The city loses about $500,000 a year from people not paying their utility bills, Ayers said.
By telling residents that they have to pay as soon as they get the bill, the hope is that people will pay it right away rather than waiting for a later date, he said.
"It's an attempt to have our good-paying customers stop subsidizing those who do not pay on time," Ayers said.
Q: What are residents saying?
A: On Thursday, eight different residents paying their bill said they did not notice the change, and it would not affect how they pay their bill.
But some members of the Lodi City Council have received questions. Mayor Bob Johnson said he has received about seven calls or emails from residents with concerns.
"People are feeling that without some type of fixed date to pay their bill, they might be subject to a late fee," he said.
John Keagy, who wrote his first letter to the editor ever on the topic (“City of Lodi uses sneaky billing tactics”), said he feels like the city did it to boost its cash flow by having people pay two to three weeks earlier than they normally would.
He also feels it could increase the number of late fees the city collects because many people wait until the due date to pay their bills, and without a specific date, they could miss it accidentally.
"I don't see how it helps the customers. It only makes it better for the city. This shouldn't be an adversarial relationship between the citizens and the city government. They should be making it as easy as possible for its citizens," Keagy said.
He said with the expensive everyday costs residents face — from $150 for an office call at the doctor to $100 an hour to get your car tuned up — the city should be trying to give people as much time as possible to pay their bill.
"It's the city's utility, which is supposed to be owned by the people who live here, and they are trying to gouge people here," Keagy said.
Q: Is the city thinking about changing the bills further?
A: Johnson and several other council members asked staff to evaluate whether having no due dates is the best idea.
"It's an opportunity to tighten up the system. Has it been perfected yet? Probably not. Is there room for improvement? Probably so," Johnson said.
Ayers said city staff is looking at the issue internally and seeing what other utilities are doing in the area. Staff will discuss whether to revise the ordinance, and will come back before the council at a future meeting.