Council asks for further study on proposal to accept online payments
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: September 13, 2013
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
Bringing the city into the 21st century by accepting online and automated phone payments for utility bills hit a snag when the City Council expressed concerns about costs.
Finance Director Sandy Easley told the council at the September 3 meeting that a vendor selected from three companies that could possibly handle the payment systems would charge the city $2.50 per transaction by credit card and $1.50 per automated phone payment, although the cost could be passed on to the bill payer.
The online or telephone payments “would give citizens another option of payment” and cut down considerably on the high volume traffic of those waiting in line to make payments and the numerous callers who make phone payments now handled by city staff.
After more questions and comments from councilmen, Vice Mayor Rick Cook said Easley’s report noted the city is paying monthly merchant fees for credit card processing, more than $46,000 during the fiscal year. Cook asked how much the cost would be reduced under the new system.
“I think the city should change something,” he noted, “even minimal” for processing. Said Cook, “Forty-six thousand a year is one person’s job and I have trouble with that,” especially as the bill pay service is a convenience for the customer.
After more discussion Mayor Ralph Fernandez admitted, “I’m at a little bit of a disadvantage here ... I don’t pay online bills,” and he asked that the issue be researched further, including discussions with other cities on their services and costs.
Easley’s report noted the situation is a Catch 22: “Although accepting credit card payments over the phone does provide a benefit for customers who cannot come into the office to pay their utility bills, it reduces the service for customers coming into the office and prevents staff from completing other work duties. Having a separate IVR (Telephone Interactive Voice Response) system that accepts credit card payments over the phone would give our staff additional time handle other telephone calls and complete other work duties that are set aside when answering phones during this period of high volume.”
In addition, her report notes the approximately $46,000 annual monthly merchant fee charged to the city would be smaller, as the payment processing company would shoulder some transaction costs while other fees would be reduced or eliminated. Easley’s report back to the council will also include city staff costs of processing payments.