Update: SF's backlog of bills reducing; contractors getting paid

The newest numbers from the San Francisco Controller’s Office show thousands of unpaid invoices are being processed, reducing the backlog of bills following the rollout of the city’s new financial payment system.

City leaders and department personnel led a liaison meeting with contractors Tuesday morning at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library with a plan and a promise for a smoother road ahead.

2 Investigates exposed the system of problems causing thousands of contractors to go unpaid for months. While early February numbers showed some 8,000 invoices were unpaid, now there are only about 3,200 that remain totaling roughly $38.6 million.

“We remain committed to our suppliers and to our city partners to figure out how to get [them] paid timely and to get it done,” Deputy Controller Todd Rydstrom said. “We’re not going to rest until it’s all resolved and complete.”

Since the new financial system came online in July, the controller’s office said 225,000 invoices have been successfully processed totaling more than $6 billion.

At the meeting, city help desk employees were on-hand to answer questions. Additionally, training was offered along with resources, including online options. Contractors were also able to fill out comment cards or voice their concerns in the face-to-face meeting with departmental leaders and representatives.

“It’s hard as contractors to understand how dynamic this whole problem is – the software, the processing and all that,” Mike Ghilotti, president of United Contractors said. “Cash is king for contractors so it’s really important.”

United Contractors represents union contractors and had written the city in a January letter claiming the city had failed to make on-time payments forcing some contractors to wait months to get paid. Some have remained unpaid for more than seven months and others have taken out second mortgages, the letter explained. It was demanded that the payment issues be taken up with urgency and the association pushed for interest to be paid on late payments.

“It’s really refreshing for the city to come forward and say this is our challenge, we’re working with you, we’re doing the best we can,” Ghilotti said. “It gives us hope.”

Paperwork, training and feedback were all major topics discussed including a question and answer portion where contractors could voice their feelings and offer advice.

The city wrapped up discussing the payment system at the meeting by promising to find the ‘root cause’ of issues, work out the bugs and discuss any disputes over late payments, including potential interest charges to the city.

“If we know there’s an issue, if something is still stuck, we want it escalated to our office because we want to help folks resolve it and get beyond this,” Rydstrom said.

All of the issues are expected to be worked out in the next two months, a city representative said.

Future liaison meetings with contractors are planned a couple times a year from now on to improve communication and relationships.