Utility bill payment changes approved

When the city of Plano installed an automatic payment kiosk at City Hall in 2008, it hoped the new technology would allow people to quickly and easily pay their utility bills without having to leave their vehicles.

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By Bill Conrad, [email protected], @Bill_PlanoStar on Twitter
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 11:39 AM CDT
When the city of Plano installed an automatic payment kiosk at City Hall in 2008, it hoped the new technology would allow people to quickly and easily pay their utility bills without having to leave their vehicles.

However, almost as soon as the kiosk was installed, software and hardware issues popped up and caused the city to reconsider the kiosk's future. The latest plan, presented to and approved by the city council Monday night, should allow for residents to pay their bills at multiple locations and save the city money, said Tony Han, the city's customer and utility services manager.

The plan will see the city partner with Fidelity Express, a third-party electronic payment vendor, and should result in at least seven new payment locations coming online as soon as November.

"The reliability and costs of looking at the kiosk system -- not just one but multiple kiosks across the city -- is a concern both cost-wise, maintenance-wise and with reliability," Han said. "We took a step back ... to really assess this and look how we can move forward."

Fidelity Express already has contracts with the cities of Carrollton, Arlington, Denton and Garland to provide utility payment services, Han said. In addition, the company accepts payments for other companies, such as Atmos Energy, Reliant Energy, TXU, AT&T and Dish Network.

Currently, customers have several options for paying their utility bills. The vast majority of the 80,000 monthly bills are paid by Internet, telephone or through an automatic withdrawal from the customer's bank account, Han said. However, about 10,000 of the customers drop their payments off in person, or utilize a drop box or electronic kiosk, according to city statistics.

In November, Mark Israelson, the city's director of policy and government relations, said options such as the drop boxes located at City Hall and at the city's joint use facility, and the bilingual kiosk at City Hall, are necessary to provide good customer service.

"There are a lot of seniors and a lot of non-English speakers who tend to use the drop box, and having that bilingual ability helps us with that, as well as the 24/7 access," Israelson said at the time, adding that there are Plano residents who don't have either the Internet or bank accounts.

If the city partners with Fidelity Express, the kiosk at City Hall would be closed, saving the city $1,700 annually on maintenance, Han said. However, payments would be accepted at the drop box, as well as at the counter inside City Hall.

In addition, payments will stop being accepted at the joint use facility, 7501-A Independence Parkway, since there is a Fidelity Express location less than a mile away. This move will save the city more than $60,000 annually since the services would be consolidated and a staff position will be eliminated, Han told the council.

Partnering with Fidelity Express should enable the city to accept payments at more locations while making it easier for residents to pay their bills, Han said.

"We have customers who go shopping at grocery stores, and for them to be able to make a payment while they are shopping is much easier than having to mail out a check or make a phone call," he said. "Going to City Hall is typically an extra trip since they are only coming here to make a payment. For them, to be able to pay at a grocery store makes a lot of sense."

The program will be paid for with a $1.50 convenience fee that will be added onto each bill paid through Fidelity Express.

If the program is deemed a success, Han said the city is looking at partnering with both Western Union and MoneyGram -- moves that could add an additional 42 payment locations at businesses such as CVS, 7-Eleven, Walmart and Market Street.

Proposed payment locations

Fiesta, 1200 E. Parker Road

Kroger, 7100 Independence Parkway

Kroger, 2925 Custer Road

Kroger, 4017 14th St.

Kroger, 3305 N. Dallas Parkway

Kroger, 9732 Coit Road

Terry's Supermarket, 1804 K Ave.

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This page contains a single entry by Staff published on September 27, 2012 7:33 AM.

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