Water Works Bookkeeping and Accounting
System of the East Bay Water Company of California Described by Chief Accountant—Electrically Driven Machines Used in Taking Care of 70,000 Accounts
(Continued from page 789)
Water Works Bookkeeping and Accounting
AMONG the material received by FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING in reply to its requests for details as to the water works bookeeping and accounting systems of the different departments there has come to hand the following very interesting article from the chief accountant of the East Bay Water Company, Oakland, Cal. This company operates in a territory 35 miles long, averaging in width from two and a half to five miles. The east side of the district is very hilly and broken with canyons; the west side is bounded by San Francisco Bay. There are 66,000 consumers in the cities of Richmond, Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, Piedmont, Emeryville, Alameda and San Leandro, Cal., aggregating a total population of about 550,000. The only ledger used by the company is the general ledger in the chief accountant’s office showing revenue and disbursements. Mr. Smith’s article follows:
ACCOUNTING AND RECORDS OF EAST BAY WATER COMPANY
Our accounting system, so far as our consumers’ accounts are concerned, is of peculiar interest, in that to the best of our knowledge it is the only instance in which the “Hollerith System” is used in keeping “accounts receivable” records. The system was introduced and installed something over two years ago by H. P. Wellman, an expert on efficiency and corporation and public utility management problems. The Hollerith System is composed of two electrically driven machines: a sorter and a tabulator, which are used in conjunction with cards in which holes are punched in such a position that all the information necessary for our purposes is available. It is the purpose of this article to begin with the reading of meters and to follow in detail the various operations necessary until the figures representing our revenue are entered in our general books.
The meter (field) books, which are our records of original entry, are made up in a manner that enables the meter reader to cover a maximum amount of territory with a minimum of effort. We have divided the entire territory, which we are supplying, into sections and each section is divided into routes which represent one day’s work for each meter reader. The meter (field) books are of the loose leaf variety known as tumble sheets, printed on both sides, but reversed. The loose leaf style enables us to insert sheets for new service in their proper places. The tumble sheet style provides space for twelve months’ readings on each side. At the end of the year the sheets are reversed (bottom to top) and turned over. This permits of entry space being on right hand side of book and results in a greater degree of ease and comfort for the meter reader when recording the readings, allowing him to hold the meter book firmly with left hand and on rainy days the book can be kept almost closed when making an entry. The sheets bear the section number and account number of consumer; also the name, address, tap number and number of meter, and carry columns properly arranged to show meter readings and water consumed. The section number and account number, as shown in the field book, are our method of identification, and remain the same regardless of the name of consumer.
While the meters are being read in a certain section, the addressograph department prepares both bills and charge cards, which bear the section number, account number, name, address and collection information, and on which are stamped the old and new reading dates.
On the morning following the date of reading, the field books, together with bills and cards, are passed to the billing department, where the meter readings are transferred from the field books to bills and cards, and the extensions figured. The billing department works in teams of two, one clerk working with the cards, the other with the bills. As each book is completed, the bills are passed to a comptometer operator, and the cards which have been “gang punched” as to date and section number, are passed to the tabulating department. A punch operator then completes the cards by punching the account number, cubic feet of water consumed, and amount of charge, also the classification of revenue. The are then run through a tabulating machine, which counts the cards and adds both the amount of water consumed and the amount charged. The totals as shown by the machine are checked with the totals of the bills added by comptometer operator, and any discrepancies reconciled.
We have seventy thousand consumers’ accounts on which charges are made monthly, and the meter books, two to each route, contain approximately five hundred readings (250 sheets each). It will be seen, therefore, that bills rendered consumers are proven with our office records of charges in small lots, and that it is possible to localize errors and eliminate a great deal of unnecessarycheching. When all the cards making up a section have been punched and proven with the bills, a report of the section is made out, which is a recapitulation of the totals of the routes as shown by the several field books. This report shows the number of meters read, the water consumed, and the total charges segregated into our various classes of revenue.
The cards and the bills are now complete, and are given to the collection department, the cards to become a part of our “unpaid file,” or outstanding consumers’ accounts, and the bills, after any unpaid balances are added, to be given to collectors or mailed to consumers in accordance with notations which appear on addressograph impressions on bills. The same system of “a section a day” has held throughout all operations, and one section passes through the entire routine in four days.
(To be continued)