Two Months Later, Lawton Water Bill Pay Is Still Broken
Before hopping into a long origin story of the Lawton Utility Bill Pay saga, let me give you the cliff notes to get you caught up...
The Lawton water bill went digital a few years ago with the help of an outside service in Texas that carved out a living offering smaller towns this service. They took a meager 75¢ service fee per bill, it worked like a charm.
In January, Lawton announced they were bringing this service in-house at city hall and they flipped the switch in March. Problems arose almost instantly and the city has yet to correct them. They addressed the ongoing problem in August, reassuring the citizens that they were fixing everything as fast as possible, but two months later in October, it's still a broken system for some.
My inbox and social media feed was filled with stories from people talking about how frustrated they were with the cities handling of this. They took a perfectly functioning service to the people and tossed a big wrench into it, proving on a grand scale that even small governments only manage to cause problems rather than solve them.
Whatever happened in the merging of accounts from the previous service to Lawton's version of it, data seems to have been corrupted. People can't log into their accounts, some accounts have been lost, but at the same time old email addresses are still somewhere in the system preventing these same people from starting completely over with a new account, the billing page is still redirecting to the old Tyler system, and there's apparently nobody to speak with about this at the city. You can always call the water department, but they're not the IT professionals you'd be looking for to help solve these persisting problems.
What. A. Nightmare.
As you can understand this is beyond frustrating for those affected by Lawton's failure. It's no wonder that even some of the city employees refuse to even try the online billing portal.
Normally I go through the process of due diligence, reaching out to someone at city hall, and looking for a quote or response... but when we talked about this two months ago, every time I was directed to someone to talk about this, they would direct me somewhere else. The old runaround.
When we did get a response in mid-August, City of Lawton Finance Director Joe Don Dunham offered this statement:
The City of Lawton is working to correct all issues with the new software. The conversion of the utility billing software is a part of a much larger software conversion the City of Lawton is going through. The issues you bring up, i.e., log in problems and multiple billings of the same statement have been corrected. There are other encounters which have presented themselves in the software that the staff is currently working through. The staff at the City of Lawton takes these challenges very seriously and is striving to make things the best they can be and ensure the citizens are presented an error free invoice for services which are provided.
Now in mid-October, when I reached back out to the people that were being so vocal about Lawton's failure on this issue months ago, half of them are still trying to get their accounts set back up so they can have the convenience of paying online again The other half gave up completely. Of those, two went back to dropping off checks, and the remaining three set up bill-pay through their personal banks.
The system remains broken.
If the Lawton utility billing system works for you, be thankful. If you're one of the unlucky citizens that have been lost in technological limbo, it doesn't appear that help is on the way anytime soon, but you are encouraged to keep holding our elected officials' feet to the fire on this issue.
Reach out to your city councilor and the mayor's office even though they deny any responsibility for this failure. They keep pointing the finger at the city manager who seems to constantly deflect blame onto someone else down the bureaucratic ladder in an unending game of "protect my political future," it's the citizens who are losing this fouled matchup.