Utility Service Partners, Inc.

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Follansbee, WV – And Many Other Cities in the U.S.

The story of Follansbee begins in 1699 with French explorers who claimed the Ohio River valley and developed trade with many native tribes, including the Mingo IndiaFollansbeens who occupied a small village known as the “Old Mingo Bottom” located on the land where Follansbee is today. A 1920 Herald Star article, reporting on the annual city Jubilee, described Follansbee as “The Little Town That Does Big Things.”

This “little town”, like many older cities and towns in the U.S., struggles with a big problem – aging infrastructure. A recent report in the news indicated that Follansbee, West Virginia; a city of about 2,900, has over 500 water main breaks every year. You may be surprised to learn that this is by no means an experience isolated to Follansbee.

According to watermainbreaksclock.com, every day, 850 water main breaks occur in North America at a total annual repair cost of over $3 billion. Corrosion, leaks and breaks in old-technology pipe materials are often the culprit. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has been giving the U.S. infrastructure a failing grade for some time now, with its most recent assessment garnering a lackluster D+. The report goes on to state what many City officials already know, “especially in the country’s older cities, much of the drinking water infrastructure is old and in need of replacement. Failures in drinking water infrastructure can result in water disruptions, impediments to emergency response, and damage to other types of infrastructure.”

The ASCE’s State report card for West Virginia lists the 20 year dollar amount at $1billion in needed investment to the State’s water systems. And the West Virginia Business and Industry Council acknowledges the “need for investment in water and wastewater infrastructure continues to far outpace the amount of funding that is available at all levels of government.”

While State and Federal funding will attempt to address primary infrastructure, private water and sewer lines – those on resident’s properties – are subjected to the same elements that cause city lines to fail. When these lines break or leak, they can be very expensive to repair – as much as $3,000 or more. And most Americans don’t have that kind of savings in the bank – so an unexpected service line repair cost can be hard on their budgets.

That’s why cities such as Follansbee, West Virginia, along with 30 other cities in West Virginia and over 400 other cities across North America, decided to introduce the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program to their residents. The program, offered at no cost to the city, educates residents about their service line responsibilities while providing an affordable solution to cover the potential cost of repairs.

“It made sense to bring this program to our community,” said John DeStefano, City Manager. “It raises awareness about homeowner responsibility for private service lines and provides them with a solution if they want to participate.”

Still, some city officials wonder why they should be in the business of working with a private company. “When faced with a failed water or sewer service line, few citizens have the desire or experience to deal with a contractor for what might be a very large expense,” said Jim Hunt, Past President of the NLC and current advisor to the NLC Program.  “It makes sense for the city to assist by insuring that the contractor is licensed and insured and gets the job done right.”

“We wanted to make sure that our citizens had access to a reputable provider, “said John DeStefano, City Manager. “It has been well-received in our community”.

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CEO’s Corner

If you have ever received a piece of mail, or an email, describing the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program, you have likely read about the exceptionally high customer satisfaction rating we maintain. From a city official’s perspective, that’s important, because you have entrusted us, as administrators of the Program, with your brand. It is our responsibility to exercise proper stewardship over the use of your city’s name to ensure it continues to convey trust to your residents.

That is one of the reasons why we are obsessed with delivering exceptional customer service. Each month, all of our senior managers, including me, meet to make sure we are listening to the voice of the customer, to ensure that our service delivery is well aligned with our customer and brand promise: to build peace of mind within each of our partner communities by freeing customers, your residents, from the worry that comes with needed service line repairs.

But with thousands of calls coming in, we needed to invest in cutting-edge technology to make sure we could hear clearly. So, we implemented a voice analytics software that provides the ability to analyze speech by measuring not just words, but other clues that shed light on the quality of the customer experience. Criteria such as silence, tone and volume are analyzed by the software alongside key words and phrases. This has revolutionized the process of quality assurance, rather than being concerned over the length of the call, we have now created a customer experience scorecard that instead is looking for empathy, tone and professionalism, emphasizing attention to customer needs.

To complement the insight provided by call analytics, we also implemented the automated Customer Survey application. This interactive web-based solution provides real-time feedback that gives our team actionable insight into all areas of the business. This is another way we keep a finger on the pulse of our customer and your resident’s feedback on the program.

One of our core values is to put the customer at the heart of everything we do, and because of that, we have a 98% customer satisfaction rating. But this is about more than numbers or a plaque hanging on the wall, this is something we live and breathe across our business every single day, and is part of our commitment to you, our city partners, and to the NLC.

Tom Rusin


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Looking Back at 2016

2016 saw tremendous and exciting activity for the NLC Service Line Warranty Program! We welcomed 71 new city partners in the U.S., bringing our total to over 400 across North America. We now serve nearly 11 million municipal households, and performed a repair or replacement every 76 seconds nationwide last year.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program is pleased to serve cities of all sizes, from Phoenix, AZ, a partner since 2012 with more than half a million households to Vergas, Minnesota, one of our newest partners, with 152 households.

Did you know? 

A survey of customers of the NLC Service Line Warranty Program said they feel better prepared for a water or sewer line emergency:

  • More than 70% said they could not afford a water or sewer line repair without the program
  • More than 90% said they have trust in the program because of the partnership with their city

City leaders agree:

Steven Wright, Chief Information Officer, City of Mesa, Arizona

“We have worked with SLWA for three years and have found the company to be responsive and focused on providing quality services to our residents.”

Todd Gloria, City Councilman, City of San Diego, California

“The city has fully vetted this organization and this program and we’ve conducted due diligence. SLWA’s program is endorsed by the National League of Cities, multiple state municipal leagues and hundreds of municipalities. SLWA’s been a member of the BBB since 2003 and they are very proud of their exemplary record.”

We hope you will join us!

Read more city and resident testimonials and see who else is participating.

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Failing the Grade

The recent release of the 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card showed no improvement in the overall grade for the nation’s infrastructure, holding steady at D+ overall, compared to the last report issued in 2013. The ASCE defines a “D” grade as one that finds “the infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of serious concern with strong risk of failure.”

Twenty-Eight civil engineers from across the country volunteer their time to work with the ASCE Infrastructure Initiatives staff to review data and consult with technical and industry experts to assign the grade. Eight criteria are used to evaluate infrastructure, including the capacity for such infrastructure to keep pace with future growth; the capacity of planned funding to meet future needs and the impact the current state could have on public safety.

“We have been in a mass, collective state of denial about how important these systems are” – Casey Dinges, Sr. Managing Director, ACSE (call out)

In a further study examining the impact of the widening gap between the failing condition of the nation’s infrastructure and the funding needed to improve it, losses were quantified in ways that go beyond the dollar figures needed to fund the improvements:

  • $3.9 trillion in losses to the U.S. GDP by 2025
  • $7 trillion in lost business sales by 2025
  • 5 million lost American jobs in 2025

And to bring the dollars home on a more personal level, it is estimated that around $3,400 in disposable income is lost annually, per family, due to things like poor roads, traffic congestion, flooding and power outages.

On top of these expenses, the private infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, serving families’ homes, have been subjected to the same elements that are causing our nation’s infrastructure to fail. When a private water or sewer line breaks, it can bring a repair bill that is several thousands of dollars.

The National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, Inc., offers homeowners an affordable protection plan through partnerships with cities – at no cost to the city.

Learn how to bring this valuable NLC program to your city today.

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National League of Cities Service Line Program: Helping Municipal Infrastructure

The National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program helps residents of partner municipalities repair or replace thousands of water and sewer laterals every year. The Program has helped more than 140,000 residents in cities and towns around the U.S. save more than $90 million in repair expenses.  The Program is also dedicated to helping protect the water systems that are vital to communities while educating both homeowners and municipal leaders about ways to improve sustainability.

In our previous issue, we highlighted a report published by the NLC Center for Research and Innovation that discusses ways in which municipalities can take advantage of our natural resources to help reinforce our nation’s infrastructure. The initiative, known as Green Infrastructure, uses nature’s design and integrates the existing ecosystem into a city’s urban environment.

In the January 23rd issue of Governing.com, the idea of urban parks is presented as an interesting tie-in to these efforts. With nearly 80% of Americans living in urban environments, and “a new focus on environmental resilience to flooding…driving city planners to more strongly consider “mixed-use” infrastructure”,  the report makes a compelling argument for the important role urban parks play, “urban parks are not luxuries; they are essential infrastructure for 21st century cities”.

Mayors in many cities recognize the reciprocal value of an urban park. As these green spaces improve the quality of life for residents, property values increase, leading to greater investment in the community. An article published by the University of Washington, College of the Environment, cites that “homes that are adjacent to naturalistic parks and open spaces are valued at 8-20% higher than comparable properties”.  And a briefing paper published by the American Planning Association lists several cities where these statistics play out.

Understanding the value of parks, not only to community and property values, but also how it supports water infrastructure management, Atlanta embarked on an impressive project in the historic Fourth Ward Park and Reservoir. The park, featuring a water-retention pond designed to help mitigate flooding, includes a 22-mile network of parks and trails connecting 45 neighborhoods. Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management saved $16 million by choosing this option over “tunneling and installing a single-use network of pipes.”

Jaime Matyas, President and CEO, Student Conservation Association, outlines many other benefits of public parks in a guest post at NLC.org, including one of great value that is not as easily quantified, when she suggests that “enhancing our nation’s parks and ensuring that their upkeep benefits everyone can become a point of community and national unification.”