City needs online bill pay optionPublished 11:31am Thursday, February 21, 2013
In Monday night’s work session following the Alexander City council’s regular meeting, Finance Director Steve Hays discussed with council members the potential of rearranging the parking lot next to city hall.
Hays said one of the main issues with potentially expanding the parking lot is whether to shut down the drive-thru window available to those who want to pay utilities on-the-go, allowing more room for customer and city employee parking alike.
But the window’s hours are sporadic at best (more often than not, when I’m swinging through to pay my bill on my lunch break, I pull around the building only to find the window closed and have to go into the building anyway), and so I’d bet the drive-thru window’s usage is hit-and-miss.
I think there is a bigger issue that should be tackled in the coming months – moving Alexander City to an online payment system for utilities.
While I’m thankful I don’t have to go to several different departments to pay my gas, water and power bills, my city utility bill is the only bill I don’t have the ability to pay online.
I hope the city will opt to find a way for people to be able to pay their bills without ever making the trip to city hall.
The benefits of having an online payment system are obvious, and if the city implemented online billing, it would join the ranks of other cities and business nationwide – including our own Tallapoosa County Revenue Commission, which began an online payment system for property taxes in 2010.
Utility customers could have the option of having bills emailed to them, cutting out the paper waste of having a physical copy of the bill mailed to the customer each month and saving the city money.
I’d almost guarantee that securing an online billing system would greatly decrease the congestion in the parking lot between the police station and city hall, not to mention the foot traffic in city hall itself.
And the overall convenience of having the option to pay online is arguably the most important aspect – I can’t imagine that providing people with yet another option for how to pay utilities wouldn’t result in more people paying their bills in a timely manner.
I appreciate the city’s strides in the past few years to enter the 21st century and provide automatic draft options, as well as the ability to use debit or credit cards as a method of payment.
But there is more work that can be done. It is paramount that Alexander City remain proactive in finding new ways to stay ahead of the curve in every way possible and find ways to appeal to a broad spectrum of customers, whether they prefer to pay their bill in person or via the Internet.
Council members did briefly discuss online payments, and Hays said he would be inquiring soon about the potential of making this happen. I hope council members continue to follow up with Hays and take strides to get some type of system in place.
We use the Internet to do everything from communicate to shop – it only makes sense that we should be able to pay our bills that way, too.
Spears is general manager and managing editor for The Outlook.