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Why Seattle’s utility billing system was late and $43M over budget

We now know why Seattle's new utility billing system took so long and cost so much to launch.

The new billing system for Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities came in $43 million over budget and was nearly a year late when it went online in 2016.

A report from the city auditor’s office released Monday states that there were three main reasons for delays and cost overruns.

"The managers and staff were challenged by the project size and complexity, the initial schedule was aggressive and optimistic — one might say unrealistic — and then at key decision points the project leaders intentionally chose to emphasize quality over timeliness," said assistant auditor Jane Dunkel.

Dunkel said the delays were the major cause of cost overruns, because extra labor was needed.

Michael Mattmiller is chief technology officer for the city. He said they took the time to make sure the job was done right. And it was worth it.

"There are many examples of utilities — public and private — who have implemented large new billing systems and have not had as smoother path as us. They've had incorrect customer bills, they've had delays. So we do think that the extra time invested has resulted in a good service to our public and to our utilities."

The rollout wasn't flawless. One mistake let thousands of customers see each other’s bills.

But the city's auditor said prioritizing quality may have prevented other potential issues, like loss of money from unpaid bills.

The audit was initially requested by Seattle City Council in early 2016 after they were caught off guard by the blown out cost and timeline of the project.

The auditor’s report said the project had no effective mechanism for regular reporting to the city.

Mattmiller said his department will adopt recommendations from the auditor to avoid cost overruns and delays on future projects.

Year started with KUOW: 2015