Ransomware attack causes hiccup in utility billing
The city of Independence is slowly getting back to normal with utility billing after last month’s ransomware attack on the city’s computer and data systems.
The first cycle of January billing statements – covering Oct. 27 through Dec. 31 – went out Thursday, the city said, and the second cycle of residential and commercial customer bills is scheduled to go out Monday.
The city has 20 billing cycles in a month. The city did not send December billing statements, as the system was taken offline due to the ransomware attack. January statements will cover November and December usage, and the days in the billing cycle will vary depending on when meters were last read. Any credit on a customer’s account will apply toward any new charges.
On social media Friday, the city said bills have been delayed due to “technical problems outside the billing system.”
The city had billed 98 percent of accounts in the November cycle – all but about 1,000 accounts – before the ransomware attack. Those remaining accounts were billed as soon as the billing system was brought back late in December.
The city says payment information entered on the online payment portal is provided directly to the city’s payment processor and is not maintained in city systems. The city had taken the payment site and other services offline as a precautionary measure while trying to recover from the ransomware attack.
Customers can request an extended payment arrangement for longer-than-usual billing cycles by contacting customer services at 816-325-7930 or email@example.com.
The city also has waived late-payment penalties and fees, as well as credit card fees, until further notice. Shut-offs for residential and commercial customers have been suspended until at least Jan. 30.
All payment forms are accepted. The Independence Utilities Center, 17221 E. 23rd St. is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; the drive-thru is open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is also a night drop box at City Hall, 111 E. Maple Ave., available 24/7 for customers to leave payments.
Assistant city manager Adam Norris said the current utility reserve funds are sufficient to maintain normal operations for the city.
“Delays like this and any other disruptions to operations are exactly why reserves for city utilities are critical,” Norris said.
The City Council has recently discussed updating cash reserve policies – how much to aim at having on hand to allow for significant projects, debt payments and revenue fluctuations, and if any rate reduction is possible – for the city utilities.