A class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Independence Power & Light ratepayers against the city of Independence, the electric utility and vendors with which it worked on the new billing system that led to many high and delayed bills and many headaches from customers this year.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this week in Jackson County Circuit Court by the Accurso Law Firm, claims the city and IPL overcharged electric customers and failed to address customer concerns.
In addition to the city and IPL, former IPL Deputy Director Andrew Boatright, Constellation Software Inc., N. Harris Computer Corporation and Advanced Utility Systems are named as defendants. The final three defendants are responsible for the new billing system the city rolled out in May.
Boatright resigned in June after the reversal of an 11th-hour city budget amendment by the City Council that would have eliminated several high-paying IPL positions. He had been IPL's acting director for nearly a year following Leon Daggett's retirement.
City spokesperson Meg Lewis said late Wednesday that the city does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.
The city replaced a 30-year-old system and rolled out a new billing system in May, an abnormally warmer month this year and the first of four months when peak-usage rates apply. Complaints about delayed bills and high totals – two or three times the normal, some said – soon followed.
Independence conducted an internal audit, then hired for an outside audit, and those noted some big hiccups in rolling out the billing system but not widespread calculation errors. As the city worked through billing issues, it allowed a grace period for repayments, abated late fees and delayed shut-offs.
Of the city's nearly 57,000 utility customers, about 18,000 had fallen behind on payments as of November, the city said.
More than 5,000 were 90 days past due, thus facing potential shut-off. The city has said it won't be doing residential shut-offs until after Christmas – focusing first on industrial and commercial customers that are extremely late. Also, the city's cold-weather policy generally means no shut-offs when temperatures are forecasted below freezing.
City Manager Zach Walker said last week that city staff can do about 400 shutoffs in one month. He and other city officials have encouraged ratepayers who have fallen behind to contact the city and set up some kind of payment plan.
The City Council recently approved a 2 percent rate decrease for all customers to take effect within a couple months.
“We don't want to do shutoffs,” Walker said. “As a public utility we have a lot of leeway to help.
“I can't stress it enough, we want to work with the customers.”
A case management conference has been scheduled for April 15, 2019, according to court records.