City Hall employees keep Ephrata flowing

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Charles H. Featherstone/courtesy photo City of Ephrata utility billing clerk Kari Chornuk and finance specialist Carrie Lnenicka in front of the giant and incredibly detailed ‘flow chart’ outlining the city’s water, sewer and garbage billing process.

EPHRATA — In the Ephrata City Hall, there’s a wall covered with little sticky notes.

Mostly pale yellow ones, but a few in pink, day-glo yellow, deep red, orange and even blue.

Over 100 of them, in a giant flow chart, outlining all the steps the city of Ephrata goes through to mail out nearly 4,000 water, sewer and garbage bills every month.

The great wall of sticky notes is the product of Ephrata’s utility billing clerk Kari Chornuk and finance specialist Carrie Lnenicka, who were inspired by something Lnenicka said she saw at a conference sponsored by the Washington State Auditor.

“They have this process, it’s no charge to the city, we give them an area to improve our processes, to dive deep into, and we wanted to dive deep into utility billing,” Lnenicka said.

According to the city’s 2019 budget, Ephrata anticipated billing a total of roughly $5.7 million for city-provided utilities — $1.3 million for garbage, $2.6 million for water and $1.8 million for sewer.

That’s around $475,000 per month, and the revenue is essential to keeping those services functioning.

Lnenicka and Chornuk spent a week in August, working seven-hour days, to pull the entire process apart, step by step, with the goal of figuring out where and how and even if they could improve how the city of Ephrata bills its utilities.

Lnenicka said sometimes they had to step back, take a little time to figure out just how many steps might be in a particular process, and think about it. They also had help from the state auditor’s office, which helped them see things they hadn’t seen before.

“Every sticky note is a step,” Lnenicka explained. “But not all steps are created equal. One step could be five minutes, another could take two and a half hours.”

“I love it,” Chornuk said, noting it helped her see her job better. “You just do (something) but you don’t think about it as a step.”

“It was a week really well spent,” Lnenicka added. “There was so much involved.”

Lnenicka also said that in doing this, and reviewing the work with the state auditor’s office, she and Chornuk discovered that Ephrata has “really good” billing processes.

The hope is to refine the billing process, make changes to the city’s utility bills and even regularly include information flyers for customers, Lnenicka said.

“We want to do some customer outreach,” she added.

Ephrata City Administrator Wes Crago told members of the Ephrata City Council last week that a complex and intricate utility billing process is what you get when “you want it to be fair and to pay for what you use.”

He said he was also impressed with the work both Chornuk and Lnenicka did.

“We have good employees,” Crago said. “This shows dedication to their craft.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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