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The city of Corvallis has changed the hours of its billing office because of the challenges of implementing a new system for the city services bill.

Through July 19 the billing office at 500 SW Madison Ave. across from City Hall will be closed from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

The closure will help staffers handle the large volume of calls the city is receiving on the new billing system. The city also has added extra staffers to help handle the calls, which have been averaging 225 per day, said Patrick Rollens, the city's public information officer.

"We knew that phone calls to staff would come," Rollens said. "What we didn't know is how much it was going to affect the other things that they do."

The new system went live June 17, although Finance Department officials twice inserted information on the new program in customers’ monthly bills.

"One of the big challenges (was) for customers who paid their monthly bill after June 12, which is when we switched over to the new system internally," Rollens said. "If they paid on June 15, for example, the new billing system might not have registered it, even though we would have received the payment successfully. This has led to situations where someone sees two months of charges on their new bill and calls about it. In most cases we are able to quickly verify that the original bill was paid successfully."

But those calls added up, Rollens said.

The city services bill pays for water, stormwater, wastewater, transit service, urban forestry and street maintenance. Residential, commercial and retail customers all pay the bill, as well as nonprofits such as churches, Samaritan Health Services, the Corvallis School District and Oregon State University. The bill does not include utilities such as gas or electricity.

The key difference in the new bill is that the new version itemizes how much a customer is paying for each of the services. The previous model did not.

Complicating the issue is that July 1 the bills went up with the addition of a new public safety fee. The fee was approved unanimously by the Corvallis City Council in November. The council was not required to refer the matter to voters.

Rollens said that about 30 to 40 callers have had questions on the new fee.

The new fee will add $17.31 to the average monthly residential bill, $121.17 for a grocery store, about $3,500 for Samaritan Health Services and more than $35,000 per month for Oregon State University. Nonprofits such as Samaritan, OSU and the Corvallis School District are not charged the property taxes that pay for most city services.

The fee will pay for 19 additional hires for the Corvallis Police Department and six more in the Corvallis Fire Department. The Police Department hires are aimed to making the department more proactive and able to engage in more community policing. The hires also will allow the department to eliminate 12-hour shifts for officers.

The fire staffers will allow the department to have both ambulance and fire crews at station two on Southwest 35th Street and at station three on Northwest Circle Boulevard.

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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