This week, for the first time in close to 20 years, City of Warren residents and businesses received a separate sewer bill in the mail.
Since about 1995, the city's sewer bills have been included with the water bills. Prior to that, the city handled sewer bills in-house. About 4,200 customers in Warren received sewer bills this week - most of them on Tuesday.
Since Pennsylvania American Water Co. made a statewide decision about a year ago not to continue including sewer and other bills with its water bills, city officials have been looking at other options.
"The city looked at various companies and considered handling bills in-house," Director of Public Works Mike Holtz said. "It was more cost-effective to go through a third-party biller."
City officials selected Pennsylvania Municipal Service Company (PAMS) from the applicable providers and entered into a three-year contract.
Because there are now extra steps in the sewer billing process, the city is paying more for PAMS than it did under the agreement with Pennsylvania American Water. "It's comparable," Holtz said. "About 10 percent" more. "We're absorbing that cost."
Other than the number of bills that residents receive, there is very little change.
"The rates didn't change," Holtz said. "The way we calculate your bill didn't change."
"We're still billing based on water consumption," he said. And the city still has to pay Pennsylvania American Water for that consumption information.
"The bill that the customer receives is exactly the same," PAMS President Richard Lear said.
The sewer bills include the residential recycling bills - also previously included in the water bills.
Although customers will now receive twice as many bills, they will not necessarily need more stamps.
Information about automatic bill payment was, and will continue to be, included in the sewer bills. "There is a 40-cent fee to have the money debited from your checking account," Lear said.
Customers may also set up automatic payment by credit card, but the fee for that service is $6. Those fees are determined by the company PAMS is under contract with for online payment.
Other payment options include U.S. Mail or setting up automatic payment through a bank.
"There are a lot of options on the way that you can pay the bill," Lear said.
Taking it to the city building is not one of them. "All payments should be remitted to PAMS," Lear said. "No payments will be accepted at the city."
Questions about billing should be directed to PAMS. The company's toll-free phone number - 800-828-0101 - was not included in the first bill, but will be in the future.