City council upholds $1 postage fee for utility bills

City of Penticton council moves forward with $1 postage fee for residents who receive bills by standard mail.

Penticton will be following through with plans to tack a loonie onto bills that get paid the traditional way.

Since May 1, home and business owners that haven’t switched to electronic billing have been subject one-dollar monthly fee.

The measure has been implemented to cut costs and reduce waste. However, some ratepayers find the practice to be discriminatory.

“It’s not about being green or saving trees,” said resident Jean Mitchell, adding that lower income residents, especially seniors, are less likely to have internet access.

“We are not about to pay you a buck for an invoice which is a request for payment to you,” she said, after presenting her petition of 243 names in opposition to the new fee.

“Most of us just want a piece of paper with all the information we need.”

To help smooth the transition towards electronic billing, the city encouraged the free internet use available at the Penticton Public Library and arranged courses for seniors to learn the ropes on computers.

Mitchell said library computers sometimes require a wait and force users to sit beside strangers.

“Before you suggest we toddle off to the library, go there yourself unannounced,” she challenged council. “You may be shocked with the reality.”

Coun. Tarik Sayeed said he does go to the library regularly, and inquired into its reality.

Mitchell said that when a computer is finally available, “You can’t choose who (sits beside you) are or what they do. It’s very uncomfortable in a lot of situations.”

Coun. Judy Sentes asked if that concern is because of privacy issues.

“No, the clothing smells like cigarette smoke so bad that you can’t stand it; you can’t breathe,” Mitchell said. “I’m not going there.”

Mitchell took offence to the city’s depiction of the new process, citing an online press release regarding the change.

“There’s a picture of a happy, elderly politically correct couple, with the woman doing the work on the computer, going online, overjoyed by the fact that they just received an e-bill in their private email inbox, telling them what’s owing, and wow – they just saved a buck,” Mitchell said, prompting a laugh from the audience. “In reality, they haven’t saved a cent. You can’t save something you didn’t have in the first place.”

She calls the fee a predatory business practice.

“Their demand is no invoice in the mail or else pay up with the postage money.”

Mitchell compared city council to the New Testament of the Bible and said Penticton has robbed Peter to pay Paul.

During a subsequent discussion, Coun. Sayeed suggested removing the postal fee and instead offering a $1 incentive to those who register for electronic billing, offering a reward instead of penalty.

Interim CAO Chuck Loewen said that would defeat the purpose of counteracting the rising cost of postage.

“The whole purpose of this was to reduce expense caused by postage,” he said. If the formula was changed to reward instead of penalize, “We would still have that expense (of postage) that we couldn’t offset by charging that dollar.”

Coun. Campbell Watt agreed.

“If we were to not charge a dollar for postage, we would have to find $180,000 somewhere else. People getting bills mailed to them will be paying through their property tax instead.”

Coun. Watt said he sympathizes for those struggling with money, but the cost of mailing has to be taxed one way or another.

Coun. Helena Konanz suggested giving residents more time to digest.

“I’d like to delay this $1-per-bill for a year, and give everyone a year to catch up to be able to learn how to use the computer and get used to the idea.”

But nobody seconded her motion.

“People have a lot of difficulties in shifting their culture to do what they do,” Mayor Andrew Jakubeit.

He believes that the opposition stems from the principal of paying for the delivery of a bill, rather than the actual cost.

“I think people would complain if the fee was 50 cents, one dollar or $5,” Jakubeit said.

Coun. Max Picton felt the discussion was losing focus on what’s important.

“We keep talking about the dollars and cents of this but really we need to look at the environmental impact,” he said. “We’re printing 17,000 bills repeatedly, over and over again.”

Coun. Picton said the decision to charge for postage will make the world a better place for everybody.

Council agreed to move forward without altering their initial decision of charging the $1 postal fee.