Change is on the way for those paying city of Blaine bills with credit or debit cards.
The Blaine City Council voted Monday, August 27, to sign a contract with a payment processing company that will allow customers to pay online, saving the city approximately $20,000 a year in credit card processing fees.
City cashiers will no longer accept credit or debit cards for utility payments, traffic fines, court fees or other city bills. The new system will allow customers to pay online, over the phone or at a computer kiosk provided by the payment processing company located in the new city hall.
Currently, those wanting to use a credit or debit card have to call the city or pay in person. The city also offers an automatic bank account debit, which customers may continue to use once the new system is in place.
The new system passes the service fee on to the payer. For a $150 payment, the fee would be around $4, city finance director Jeff Lazenby said. However, most residents of Blaine won’t be affected by the change – Lazenby pointed out that 90 percent of the city’s utility customers pay with cash, check or automatic bank account debit.
The majority of credit card payments the city processes are for court or traffic fees, Lazenby said. The annual cost to the city is from a small minority of payers. City manager Gary Tomsic said many of the traffic and court fees are incurred by people from out of town, including a number of Canadians.
Police chief Mike Haslip said his department has been looking for a way to lower the number of aged accounts, and he said this program could be the way to do it.
It’s all about making it convenient for people to take care of payments, Haslip said. Once a person has left town, they tend to neglect to mail a check or call in a payment, he said. But if people with a traffic fine can hop online and pay the bill easily, it’s more likely they’ll remember to do it.
Tomsic expects the change to take effect soon after the city gets settled in the new building, sometime after September 10. He expects a bit of a learning curve as people get used to the new system.
“Anything that’s new requires some learning and some experience,” Tomsic said, adding that he believes the city will have to be flexible with people learning a new system.
“I see it kind of like the self-checkout at the grocery store,” he said. “Though I hope it works a little better than that.”
The new system is also used by the city of Lynden, and Lazenby said that city’s assessment of the system has been positive.
Council members voted 6-0 to approve going ahead with the new system. Council member Clark Cotner abstained, citing major problems in his own business with a similar payment processing company.