Can you pay me now? Good.
St. Charles will begin charging residents who want to pay their utility bills over the phone a $7.50 fee beginning Dec. 1. But not all aldermen are happy with the change.
City staffers pitched the fee as a "convenience" charge after an increase in the number of residents trying to pay their utility bills by phone on the due date. That day is already busy for the staff, who are processing a flood of last-minute payments each month, they say.
The staff told aldermen they accepted an average of 87 phone payments every month in 2011. That's up from an average of 65 phone payments per month in 2010. There were no numbers provided for the current year.
The staffers said there is no magic to the $7.50 total. It is expected the fee would cover the cost of the staff time it takes to process the phone payments.
A secondary goal of the fee is to push people to use the automated online payment system. The automated system removes the potential for staff error when manually inputting the payments.
But both goals left a sour taste in Alderman Ray Rogina's mouth. Rogina and Alderman Maureen Lewis voted against the fee.
Rogina said he believes senior citizens are the most likely users of the phone payment system. He doesn't like the idea of charging residents, who may be on fixed incomes, another $7.50 each month. Rogina also said seniors are also unlikely to start using the automated online system.
"I'm thinking of my 89-year-old father who does not have a computer," Rogina said. "I see the point of why we're doing this, but that's my concern."
The staff responded that all residents also still have the option of mailing in their utility payments or dropping them off at city hall.
The money raised by the fee may be welcome news to the finance department. Finance Director Chris Minick told aldermen Monday he is still projecting a deficit at the end of the fiscal year. With one quarter in the books, the projected deficit is $416,000. That's a more positive projection than the city began the year with. Initial projections put the deficit at $725,000.