The Fort Smith Utilities Department is looking at a new system for online transactions. The department will present a resolution Tuesday (Sept. 21) to the Fort Smith Board of Directors that will allow an agreement for utility bill payment services with Kansas City-based Payit.
Lance McAvoy, utilities director, and Joshua Robertson, deputy director of business administration for the utility department, presented the option at a BOD study session Sept. 14. Payit was chosen after an extensive evaluation, McAvoy said in a memo to City Administrator Carl Geffken.
“The one thing we still get the most complaints on from the transition is the online billpay site,” Robertson told directors. “In the entire industry, actually, they do more municipalities than any other online payment vendor.”
Payit allows for customers to pay their utility bill (water, sewer, and solid waste) online or by using a mobile app. It also can be expanded in the future to allow payments for such things as business licenses, tax remittances and parking tickets, McAvoy said in the memo.
“The application will supply the city with the tools to improve our online customer service the current CSS portal does not have,” he said.
The proposed agreement would include an initial five-year contract with auto renews for successive one-year terms unless a party to the agreement provides written notice to cancel. There is no upfront fee to the city. Payit will also aid the city by providing 24-hour phone support for the customers and City, the memo said.
If approved, the new Payit system would be launched in conjunction with the upgrade to the city’s current ERP system, which should happen after the first of the year, McAvoy said. At that time, customers will already have to fill out updated customer service portal login information because of the upgrade, and it will be an easy time to make the switch, McAvoy said.
“People will have a new way to go in and pay their bills with a proper, practical user interface. And it will save … credit card numbers (which can not be done on the current system), making it a much more usable system,” Geffken said.
McAvoy told directors at the study session the utilities department also is looking at changes to leak adjustments on water bills. Adjustments are now allowed for leaks that do not run into the sewer line. No adjustments are made for leaking faucets, showers, toilets, etc. where water runs down the drain. The proposed change would also only be for leaks that do not run into the sewer line. The proposed change would look at the customer’s average usage and would bill water usage that is more than two times the customers’ average at a lower rate, McAvoy said.
An example is that if a customer’s total usage on a bill is 25 CCF and the average usage is 13 CCF, then the bill would reflect 12 CCF billed at the normal rate and 13 CCF billed at the lowest residential rate, which would save the customer more than the current leak adjustment does, McAvoy said.
City Director Lavon Morton also encouraged the utilities department to consider increasing the deposit required when starting new service, which has been $50 for a number of years, and for holding the deposit longer. The deposit is now refunded or put toward the utility bill after 12 months of the bill being paid on time. Morton suggested making it 24 or 36 months. Those changes are not on the agenda for Tuesday’s board meeting.