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10/31/2013 9:15:00 AM Email this articlePrint this article 
Nov. 1 is first day for online payments

Sebastian Moraga
Staff writer

It's just like playing cards, Cashmere City Clerk-Treasurer Kay Jones says. You can sit and watch all you want, but you only really learn when you start playing.

So, Jones and the city hall staff will roll out an online payment system Nov. 1, although the system is complex and Jones says not all has been figured out.

"We are going to go live Nov. 1, no matter what," she said. "We'll just learn as we go. If we can't answer a customer's question, we'll figure it out and get back to them."

Jones asked the citizenry for a little patience, noting that the program may feel a little cumbersome at first for the people handling it.

Most of the software available is built and meant for cities with thousands of customers. Cashmere's customer pool barely breaks the 1,000 mark.

Furthermore, Jones said, people aren't required to switch to online pay. It's voluntary.

"There's bill presentment and there's bill payment," she said. "You don't have to do both. You can do just one and still walk in the door and pay like you always do."

She added, "If we have trouble, we will call the customer and say 'I'm sorry, we'll have to get back to you when we find out how to do this."

Jones did encourage residents to at least register online with their email address. That way, the city can notify them twice that their bill is due. That's something the city does not do now, she said.

"We don't remind you to pay your bill, you just see the late fees," she added.

The goal for next year is to switch from the postcard-sized bills to page-sized bills. The bigger size would allow for longer messages on the bill as well as more information.

"We can put a graph where you can look at your water usage," she said. "Which is awesome. We can't do that with a bill card."

The full-size is more expensive, because it requires an envelope, so Jones reiterated her wish that people go paperless.

"The cost will be closer to the same, the more people that go paperless," she said. "You get to see the same bill online or in paper next year, but I'm trying to cut costs."

Jones said Vision Municipal and Invoice Cloud are the city's partners in this project.

Online pay has been a wish-list item for Jones for a long time. In addition to online pay, the city will soon unveil a credit-card payment station at City Hall.

"It's an all-in-one computer," Jones said, adding that the shelf for it is not wide enough, so it may take a little while, but soon residents may pay their bills by credit or debit cards, ACH or e-check. E-check has a 95-cent fee, while the credit card payment has a $3.95 fee for every $250 on the bill. So if a business' utilities bill is $500, and they use their credit cards, they will need to make two transactions, which doubles the fee.

Jones pointed to the convenience of being able to pay with a credit card, fee notwithstanding.

"When someone comes in, last minute, saying 'I got the notice, you are going to shut my water off, I don't have any money, can I pay by credit card?' it's like 'Uh, no,'" she said. "Now we can point to the station and say 'you bet.'"

Representatives of companies Jones spoke to told her a surprising amount of people pay their bills with a credit card.

"I would not pay $4," Jones said of the fee. "Now, if I was going to have my water turned off and I didn't have the money, then yeah. I would pay $4 rather than have my water shut off."

Jones said the system is as safe as any out there.

"It's like any payment center, (like) PayPal," she said. "It's got all the securities in place, they meet all the identity-theft criteria, it's called PCI compliance, and that's what our vendor had to be."

She added, "We will never see any card numbers."

This is no trial period, Jones reiterated. City Hall is going for it, and there is no turning back. She had high praise for City Hall staff, who underwent one last session of training for the system last week.

"These girls are amazing," she said. "All we need is for people to be a little bit patient."

Sebastian Moraga can be reached at 782-3781 or reporter@cashmerevalleyrecord.com.



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