Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 08 May 2012 14:48
Residential and commercial utility customers in Hillsboro soon will have the option of receiving their monthly city bill via e-mail.
City Administrator Larry Paine said staff are already testing the system with a small group. He plans to open the service for general use with delivery of the June bills.
“We’ve been slow to adopt new technology,” Paine said. “One of the things customers are looking for now is that they want to get their bill via e-mail, and they want to pay their bill on the Internet. So we’re trying to build that capacity.”
The ability to pay a city utility bill online via credit card is projected to begin later this summer. But to begin receiving their city bill via e-mail, customers will need to sign up for the service.
“We’ll be mailing out a letter that’s going to describe it to all of our customers,” Paine said. “It’s going to be open to residential and commercial (users).
“If people miss the first cycle (for signing up), then they’re ready for the second cycle or third cycle,” he added. “It’s something they can do at any time.”
Paine stressed that e-mail billing is optional.
“If a customer wants to sign up, that’s fine,” he said. “If a customer doesn’t want to have anything to do with it, that’s fine too. It’s not one of those things where we’re going to force people. We’re just creating an electronic option.”
Paine said he hasn’t targeted a goal for customer participation.
“It’s already going to be worthwhile if we get five or 10 people,” he said. “It’s something that will be easy for us to do. The package that we added to the utility billing basically cost us $1,000. That’s spent. So if we get people to go in and use it, it’s great. From this point on there really is no procedural change.”
Sending bills by e-mail will save the city some postage expense, but Paine said he will be happy if that savings simply covers the increase in credit-card fees the city will experience once online payment begins.
Because the billing procedure remains essentially the same in the office, the only other possible benefit to the city would be handling fewer bills manually.
“We’ll have fewer pieces of paper to process, and that’s a good thing,” Paine said. “When we don’t touch the paper as much, there’s not as much likelihood for an error—although I don’t know that we have any errors in sending out bills because we primarily use a window envelope.”
Paine said some cities in Kansas have been using e-mail billing and online payment for as long as 10 years already.
“We’re riding the wave, we’re not on the leading edge,” Paine said. “We have waited long enough to see what some of the other people’s mistakes are, so we’re basically working with a system that is pretty well routine. We know how it’s going to work.”
Once online payment begins later this summer, Paine said he sees the option being expanded in the future to include other city charges, such as recreation fees and traffic fines.
“Little by little, you keep adding on to it,” he said. “It’s one more way for us to make things we do more convenient for our customers.”