Penticton council voted to maintain the current $1.15 fee for paper utility bills being sent out by the city.
City staff noted the topic of this fee was addressed during the election campaign so it was determined necessary to add the discussion to the current agenda. The fee was first introduced in 2015 as a means of encouraging customers to receive their bill electronically, thus reducing the city’s environmental footprint and reducing the postage and printing costs associated with the paper bills.
“A series of actions were taken prior to the fee appearing on paper bills, including an iPad mini draw prize for early registrations, Celtic Thunder drawprize tickets for registration under the 2015 Family Day and Homeshow events, open registrations at the library, assistants at city hall counters for registrations and articles in the utilities newsletters,” said Amber Holt.
Since its implementation in May 2015, the city revenue and collections department began tracking concerns regarding the fee when a customer wrote in or wanted to have their names added to the registered concerns list. Holt said each customer is only eligible to be added to this list once and multiple complaints by a single customer are only logged as one concern.
“Since May 2015, revenue collections has received 37 individual concerns, or 0.001 per cent of total utility accounts,” said Holt. “The majority of these were received within the first six months after implementation. As well, based on the changes to call volumes during implementation, approximately 3 per cent of utility customers desire to participate in e-billing but struggle to make the change.”
Holt said the city has reduced the cost of utility billing by $7,390 per month or $88,688 per year.
“The $1.15 fee includes all facets of paper bill production and mailing such as paper and envelopes, staff time and the largest portion which is, of course, postage,” said Holt. “It will be a very long time until the city and its citizens transition to a completely electronic billing relationship and so an expensive production and mailing of paper bills will remain for the forseeable future.”
Coun. Katie Robinson was at first hesitant to support the maintanence of the fee, which uses a hybrid model of direct cost recovery with a small portion funded indirectly through general taxes and then recovered through the fee. The total projected expense of the production and mailing utility bills is $160,920.
“I’m on the fence on this one and that’s not a place I find myself very often. On one hand, I look at and I think ‘It should be the city’s cost of doing business, and we shouldn’t be charging people to send them a bill.’ then I put my financial planner’s hat on and it makes sense that we would recup the difference,” said Robinson. “But we have so many seniors in our town and I empathize with them because not everyone has a computer or a laptop, so we’re penalizing the people we should be least doing it to.”
Coun. Jake Kimberley was in favour of maintaining the fee but noted that it is unfortunate that there are some residents who do not have access to a computer or understand the technology required to use an e-billing system.
Coun. Campbell Watt said he agreed with Kimberley and noted that 10 of the noted concerns were with the principle of it and 11 were due to no internet access. He said there are other points of access around the community such as at the library.
“I think the $1 is good for cost recovery because this is something you can opt into or opt out of,” said Watt. “I get paper, I haven’t gone to internet. I would like to for the environment but other than that I’m fine paying the dollar. I think environmentally that’s something we should be responsible for promoting.”
Coun. Judy Sentes also supported the maintenance of the fee while Coun. Frank Regehr said he would have liked the city to reward those who signed up for e-billing with a $1 incentive at the beginning of this initiative.
“I don’t like the idea of city council or any government nickel and diming their taxpayers to death, I believe that has to stop and should have stopped a long time ago,” said Mayor John Vassilaki. “I also believe that since we have a utility that makes an exorbitant amount of profit and subsidizes various other projects within our budget, that’s the cost of doing business and should be paid out of the profits.”
Robinson renegged on her previous appraisal and voted in favour of the fee maintenance, along with the other five councillors. Mayor Vassilaki stood alone in the opposition.
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