How municipal utilities are improving payments and customer service for their entire city

Municipal utilities can be like a Trojan horse for new government technology — in a good way! They can usher in a new and improved way for residents to interact with their local government, citywide. And by introducing operational efficiencies and improved revenue collection, new technology can save cities money.

“This will be much more user friendly, and we won’t have to be responsible for PCI compliance. We are hoping to capture savings of $50,000 or more annually.”

Amit Thakkar, Director of Finance
Mount Prospect, IL, is streamlining city payments, starting with utilities

In many communities, water, sewer, and garbage pickup utilities are managed by local government. The difference between a Water Department and another government department, such as Animal Care and Control, is that most people who interact with the utility do so on a regular and frequent basis. For instance, people usually pay their water bills monthly. They may only visit Animal Care and Control annually to renew a pet license. 

 

Improving ROI and customer care for public utility and government payments

Since paying a water bill is a recurring transaction, it’s a big convenience to customers when that interaction is made simpler. People adopt a payment technology faster when they use it repeatedly, reinforcing its convenience. More than 90% of people who pay their utility bills on a CityBase kiosk are repeat kiosk customers, according to kiosk usage data across CityBase utility clients.

Higher adoption rates mean higher return on investment for cities: customers convert to lower-cost payment channels faster, reducing their reliance on costly and cumbersome methods like paper mail-in billing or after-hours dropboxes. And the city can introduce new services in the same channels without big promotional costs, since their customers already use the technology.

For instance, a city that introduces self-service payment kiosks or recurring online billing for water bills can easily add dog licenses, parking tickets, business permits, and other city bills to those payment channels later on — and they can manage all transactions in the same centralized revenue management system.

 

Here are a few local governments that are transforming the payment experience for customers and staff, starting with public utilities. 

 

Village of Mount Prospect, Illinois

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The Mount Prospect Village Board approved the partnership with CityBase in a unanimous 6-0 vote. The new payment technology, powered by the integrated CityBase payment platform, unifies online and in-person payment channels across departments. This creates a consistent user experience for residents no matter their payment method, and provides centralized, automated reporting and reconciliation across the Village and its departments.

 

 

Mount Prospect is bringing water, sewer, and refuse utility payments live online and via an outdoor self-service kiosk at Village Hall, 50 S. Emerson Street, Mount Prospect, IL. The kiosk will extend in-person service hours to 24/7 for customers, providing a safe and secure option to pay bills. The Village plans to expand services in the future to support additional payments such as parking tickets and food and beverage, hotel/motel, amusement, and municipal motor fuel taxes.

Customers paying online will be able to securely store a preferred payment method and schedule future and recurring payments for utility bills. The CityBase platform shoulders the responsibility of PCI security compliance, removing the Village from PCI scope. The technology integrates with the Village’s existing financial system and will provide automated research, reporting, and reconciliation through a cloud-based revenue management solution.

“We do not have any platform today where we can allow people to file and pay their taxes online. We also do not have recurring payments that people can sign up for. And we do not have any 24/7 cash payment service today. We were looking at different options. Today we are recommending CityBase with their kiosks and online payment services,” said Amit Thakkar, Director of Finance for Mount Prospect, in a presentation to the Mount Prospect Village Board.

“This will be much more user friendly, and we won’t have to be responsible for PCI compliance. We are hoping to capture savings of $50,000 or more annually.”

 

City of Lawrence, Indiana

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The City of Lawrence provides customers with self-service, in-person payments via two payment kiosks located at Lawrence Government Center at 9001 E. 59th Street.

 

 

The kiosk program was initiated to increase payment choice while reducing risks for Lawrence employees and residents. Before COVID-19 stay-at-home measures, on average 2,000 Lawrence residents paid water bills in person via cashier each month, including 500 cash transactions. By making in-person payments contactless, the City is providing a safe and affordable alternative for its constituents, particularly those who must pay bills in person using cash. Lawrence residents will have a free, 24/7 option to pay their bills using cash, card, or check without any added service fees.

“This is a new opportunity to help our constituents and employees to stay safe by using CityBase kiosks for bill payment,” said Jason Fenwick, Deputy Mayor/Controller/Utility CFO at the City of Lawrence. “It has always been our priority to equally serve every Lawrence resident. We are partnering with CityBase because their technology provides a 24/7 secure, convenient way for the City to serve customers who pay their bills in person, even as the nature of in-person interactions evolve during a pandemic.”

 

Volusia County, Florida

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Initially, residents who receive their utility service from the county will be able to pay their bill on the kiosks — which will accept cash, credit cards, and checks. County officials said they might partner with cities in the future to provide options to pay other bills as well.

The county is considering putting the first two kiosks inside libraries in DeBary and Edgewater because that’s where the majority of its utility customers live. 

“We’re looking at starting it there,” Business Services Director Jeaniene Jennings told the County Council. “And if we need to let it grow into other areas, we will.”

County Manager George Recktenwald said the county is looking to find new ways of transacting business during the pandemic that will also be useful and convenient for the public when the pandemic is over.

“Wherever we could, we asked staff to look at something that would be applicable to help us through this, but be applicable going forward. And this is a perfect example of that,” said Recktenwald. “I think it’s going to help us well into the future.”

 



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