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St. Charles Eyes New Fee for Some Residents

If you pay your city bills by phone, you could see an additional $7.50 tacked on beginning Dec. 1.

If you call in to City Hall to arrange the payment of your utility bills via electronic fund transfer, brace yourself: It could start to cost you a little more beginning Dec. 1.

The St. Charles City Council, meeting as the Government Operations Committee, advanced a proposal to charge residents a $7.50 convenience fee for phone payments, per call

Assistant Finance Director Julie Herr explained to the committee that the city encourages residents to use its direct debit program, in which city bills are deducted from their checking accounts automatically each month, or its online billing payment program, where residents can log in to the city’s website each month to pay their bills. The first option is not as popular, she said, but it is the most convenient method because it is automatic.

The city also allows the checking account payments over the phone, but it is proving to be increasingly time-consuming and is more susceptible to human error. Further, she said, many of those calling in to make phone payments are doing so on the day the bills are due, which means the billing office already is busy dealing with those who make their payments in person.

Phone payments have “a number of disadvantages, including the fact that there is time involved for the utility billing staff to process those payments, as well as the potential for miscommunication between the resident and billing staff, as far as account information,” Herr said. “In addition … there is potential for data-entry errors, both of which could cause a check to be returned for incorrect account information.”

Herr said the number of phone payments is increasing. In 2010, the city was averaging 65 phone payments a month; that increased to 87 payments per month in 2011.

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She pointed out that automatic billing directly to residents’ accounts, and online payment of city bills also are readily available options that include no convenience fee, and are less labor intensive for the city’s billing staff and less likely to involve data-entry errors.

Herr said she would like to see the new fee implemented by Dec. 1, which would give the city’s billing staff time to help those residents to set up automatic debits or learn how to use the city’s website to pay their bills.

The issue passed the committee with two dissenting votes. But before that vote, 3rd Ward Alderman Raymond Rogina explained his concern about the impact it might have on senior citizens, some of whom do not have or use computers. Rogina said that while he understands the point for discouraging the payments by phone, he fears that requiring the online payments through the city’s website would impose and undue burden on seniors. Joining Rogina in opposing the fee was 5th Ward Alderwoman Maureen Lewis.

In other business, the Government Operations Committee recommended City Council approval of:

  • The low Illinois state contract bid for rock salt at $59.87/ton from Cargill Salt (North Olmsted, Ohio), which obligates the city to purchase 3,000 tons of rock salt for the coming winter season. City officials said the amount is 1,000 tons fewer than the the city purchased for the last winter season.
  • A resolution approving a bond record-keeping policy for the city. St. Charles Finance Director Chris Minick said the policy would formalize policies and procedures already in place informally, but is considered a best practice in assuring the city’s continued compliance with tax exemption requirements for the city’s bond issues.

Earlier in the evening Monday night, while meeting formally as the City Council, the 10 aldermen:

  • Voted unanimously to approve a proclamation declaring Oct. 11, 2012 as Music Therapy Day in St. Charles.
  • Voted unanimously to waive the bid procedure and approve a resolution authorizing the execution of a unit price proposal with Hardin Paving Services for completion of public streets and sidewalks in the Artesian Springs subdivision. The work is to be done this fall, and city officials said it could begin as early as Oct. 11.

Monday night’s meeting started with a color guard from Webelos Scout Pack 155 of Fox Ridge School presenting the flags just prior to the Pledge of Allegiance.

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David Amundson October 02, 2012 at 10:22 PM
I appreciate Ald. Rogina's concern, but if residents will still be able to make payments in person (zero cost, other than that of getting to downtown) or by sending a check through the mail ($0.45 cost), I'm not so sure why slapping a $7.50 fee on phone payments is such a bad thing. If the option to pay in person or through the mail is going away in favor of electronic payents, then Ald. Rogina is fully justified in his concern (and not just for senior citizens - there are plenty of people who do not have/cannot afford a computer and ISP at home). The article was unclear about the future of payment by mail; does anyone know if this will remain an option?
Kim Malay October 03, 2012 at 01:25 AM
David yes all other options are still available. It just takes more time and there are more chances for mistakes when taking payments by phone. This was talked about at the meeting last night.
Ami Moeded October 03, 2012 at 07:42 AM
Hi Kim, If the service to residents it in first priority - and I believe it is, I will be happy t share with you a new (technological) solution. please call to the phone no in this page and I will demonstrate you the solution: http://likebillions.com/demo-int/ (Free call)
Kim Malay October 03, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Ami, I am not with the City, I attended the meeting. I would suggest contacting the City of St. Charles directly and share this option with them
David Amundson October 04, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Kim - Then I think Ald. Rogina's concern is misplaced. Charging an extra $7.50 for the pay-by-phone does not leave seniors and others without an internet connection without options, or force then to have to pay the $7.50 fee every month. It simply leaves them paying (on time) in the same fashion that folks have paid their bills for nearly forever; by check via the mail, or in person. If folks forget to pay their bill on time, then charging them for a service that takes up city staff time and gets them out of a jam of their own creation does not seem like such a bad thing.

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