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.
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.