Mar 302008

Via the Stockton Record (, By Harley Becker, Record Staff Writer, March 21, 2008:

Electronic payment is slowly replacing snail mail as the preferred method for paying utility bills in San Joaquin County’s five major cities.

Lathrop, Tracy and Stockton have been offering some form electronic bill pay service since 2004 and 2005. Manteca joined them last year, and Lodi will be on board in the next 60 days or so.

The cities’ motivations for offering such service generally fall along the lines of providing greater customer service or acknowledging that today’s young adults are tech-savvy and expect their communities to be up to date, too.

But, as a side benefit, people who use electronic bill paying may be saving their city significant money. And the cities would prefer that method whether it saves money or not.

The most costly way for a city to receive payment is when someone walks in the door at City Hall and hands over cash, explained Tracy Finance Director Zane Johnson.

The process: Bills are mailed to each customer. When the person arrives at City Hall with their payment, someone needs to be standing at the counter to take the money and write a receipt. At the end of the day, someone has to count the cash and balance out the register. Extra procedures follow to protect against fraud. Finally, an armored car company picks up the money and takes it to the bank.

Johnson said the city has never stopped to count up the total, but it is definitely more costly than when an electronic bill is sent to the customer’s e-mail address and, with a few clicks of a mouse, the payment transfers from a credit card to the city’s bank account. In some cases, customers sign up for automatic withdrawal of funds, he said, but most of the time, they go online monthly to pay.

While Stockton would prefer to have bills paid online, Stockton Revenue Officer Kathy Whitman said she does not see the service as saving money, since the city must pay the costs involved in electronic transactions.

The article above comes from the Stockton Record, so it deals only with the nearby cities within California’s Central Valley. I’m curious to know what percentage of cities nationwide have instituted online bill pay for utilities.

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