Pinellas County

Tampa, Florida, United States

Pinellas County (County), located in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area of Florida, provides potable water, wastewater, and reclaimed water service throughout its utility service area. The County engaged Raftelis in to conduct a comprehensive utility business and rate sustainability analysis to provide a comprehensive road map for the County utility over the next decade in terms of customer service, technology, rate structure, and sustainability. The business case initiatives include evaluation of the billing cycle (currently bi-monthly), the potential for automating the meter reading process, and other technology and process improvements. The rate sustainability tasks include development of a comprehensive 10-year financial forecast and evaluation of existing rate structures for equity, revenue sufficiency, and long-term sustainability.

The initial step in the project included a kick-off workshop with a “core group” of leaders that have various roles within the utility function such as operations, customer service, business administration, and budget/finance. During the workshop, a project charter and established project goals, objectives, and boundaries for the project were established. Coordinated with the kick-off workshop were several meetings and individual interviews with various utility-related staff and management. Additional meetings with key stakeholders and others will be an integral part of engaging the utility and identifying opportunities for enhancement and long-term sustainability. Once the business case “road map” begins to develop, the rate sustainability will incorporate any financial implications into the comprehensive rate and utility finance model. Raftelis performed a comprehensive billing frequency analysis to identify all customer billing trends and opportunities. The various utility rate structures (base charges, usage charges, sewer billing caps, reclaimed water rates, wholesale rates, etc.) were evaluated and quantified as part of the rate sustainability analysis.

Widespread Service Disruption Policy Assessment

Raftelis was engaged by Pinellas County Utilities (PCU) to review and improve its customer service policies related to widespread service disruptions. PCU had leak adjustment and estimated read policies that apply during normal operation. However, several issues arose during a recent hurricane, prompting PCU to review its existing policies and determine if disconnection, leak adjustment, and billing estimate policies should include a provision for widespread service disruptions. By working with Raftelis to establish a policy for service, PCU was able to preempt customer concerns and potentially reduce workloads of customer service staff.

Customer-Facing Policy Review

Like many utilities, Pinellas County Utilities (PCU) has undergone significant changes over the last 35 years—everything from growing its service area to adding a wastewater utility to rolling out reclaimed water initiatives. Unfortunately, the organization’s customer policy manual was unable to keep pace with the new activities and fell out of date. To update the manual and address the gaps, PCU convened a cross-functional core team of subject matter experts from across the customer-facing areas of the utility, with specialties including customer service, development review, wastewater treatment, engineering, maintenance, technical services, water conservation compliance, and billing and collections. This group reviewed sections of the existing manual, particularly those relevant to all three service lines provided by PCU, to identify policies that needed to change based on updated practices, technology, and thinking within PCU and the County.

Where current or needed sections were not broadly applicable to the utility, the core team and project manager established task forces to work in specific areas. These task forces tackled everything from outlining, drafting, and editing reclaimed water policies to making updates related to hauled waste and temporary meter policies. The work of the task force was then reviewed by the core team to ensure consistency, comprehensiveness, and readability. Additionally, the core team used policy manuals from other utilities in Florida and the southeast to see how peers and best practice utilities addressed particular issues – how often can residents have the conservation fee waived for refilling their pools? Do impact fee credits expire? Under what circumstances should the name on the utilities account change?

The electronic, online manual resulting from these efforts represents a major step forward for PCU, in terms of both comprehensive policies that cover all of the utility’s activities and a user-friendly document that enhances the utility’s ability to consistently apply policies to different situations.