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Farmington council OKs online, telephone payments for utilities

Paying for Farmington city utilities will be just a little easier this fall.

On Monday, the Farmington City Council approved a new contract with its provider, Paymentus, which will allow residents to make online and telephone payments for the city's water, storm water, sewer, street light and solid waste utilities.

The new options come as a result of both customer and council requests, city finance director Robin Hanson said.

The city currently allows an automatic withdrawal from residents' checking or savings account using a system called ACH. About 16 percent of the city's customers use the service. However, there is an interest in expanding the payment service to include one-time and recurring payments using debit and credit cards, and e-checks.

In a workshop last week, council members considered tacking on a service fee for those who make electronic payments. However, Hanson recommended against doing so, because it could discourage residents from using the service.

"We decided that the disadvantages outweighed the advantages to the user convenience charge model," Hanson said. "The fee would likely minimize participation, and we wanted to provide this in the most customer service-friendly way that we could."

The first year, the costs associated will be absorbed by the utility funds in place. Based on participation over that first year, the city will have a better idea of what the actual cost will be, Hanson said, and that would be built into the future budgets.

The city will go with the company, Paymentus. The city reviewed several companies, Hanson said, but only one provided customers the chance to make payments over the phone, in addition to the online component. Because not all customers have Internet access, and some are not comfortable giving financial information out online, Hanson felt it was important to provide the telephone payment option.

Payments can be made using MasterCard, Visa and Discover. American Express does not offer a utility rate, Hanson said, so the city cannot offer that as an option for payment.

Residents can still bring their payments down to city hall or send the payments through the mail.

"I think customers will expect us to take them for this particular activity," Hanson said.

In working through the process, Hanson said, staff has learned there are some intricacies of payment card compliance requirements, which ultimately boils down to how to keep card information safe and secure.

"These rules are pretty complicated, and we think it would be in our best interest to work with a third party that specializes in this to help us review our process to ensure that we're doing what we can to meet the industry's best practices," she said.

While Hanson does not have a contract for a third party to help with the payment card compliance portion of the plan, she plans to come back with a recommendation in a few weeks.

If everything goes ahead on schedule, Hanson expects the online and telephone payment options to go into effect around Nov. 1.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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