Council rejects proposal for online bill payment

Published 11:47 am Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Franklin’s plans to offer residents the ability to pay utility and tax bills online have been put on indefinite hold following a vote at Monday’s City Council meeting. The online bill payment system had previously been estimated to debut in March.

Vice Mayor Barry Cheatham had initially proposed that the city proceed with its plan — and pass the associated credit and debit card convenience fees onto payers — but his motion received no second. Then, Councilman Greg McLemore made a motion that the city reject the proposal it had received from its billing software developer, Edmunds & Associates, which passed unanimously after being seconded by Councilwoman Wynndolyn Copeland.

The implementation of online billing using the Edmunds software, which is designed to work with the Web Inquiry and Payment Portal credit card processing service, otherwise known as WIPP, would have implemented a 2.95-percent convenience fee on every transaction made using a credit or debit card, regardless of whether the transaction was made online or in-person at City Hall. It also would have implemented a flat $1.05 convenience fee for electronic checks. This is what Cheatham had proposed passing onto payers.

The city processes all credit and debit card transactions at City Hall through Sun Trust Bank and absorbs the associated convenience fees. Sun Trust charges separate fees for each type of card used, with the average fee being around 1.17 percent of the transaction. In fiscal year 2017-2018, the city took in $5,570,123 from a total of 26,873 credit and debit card transactions. Absorbing the associated fees cost the city $65,159 that year.

Had the city chosen to absorb the new costs associated with WIPP, it would have had to pay 2.25 percent instead of 2.95 percent for each credit or debit card transaction, and a flat fee of 44 cents rather than $1.05 for each electronic check.

Even with these discounts, the city’s annual cost to absorb all convenience fees was projected to nearly double to $125,328 with online billing.

But other members of the council did not share Cheatham’s willingness to pass these costs onto residents.

“I don’t like seeing another cost to living in the city of Franklin,” said Councilman Bobby Cutchins. “In my opinion, keep it as it is, and not have online paying. To put a charge on every house in the city is hard for me to accept.”

Councilman Benny Burgess clarified that it would not be a charge on every house in the city, just everyone who uses a credit or debit card, but ultimately voted with the rest of the council to reject the Edmunds proposal.

City Treasurer Dinah Babb said that people who choose to pay their taxes and utility bills using credit or debit cards are in the minority. Checks and cash are the two most common types of payments she receives.

She also said, “We have citizens who are really dying for us to go online; they are asking for this.”

Interim City Manager Clarence Monday confirmed that no city money had been spent to-date to develop the now-rejected online bill payment system. The feature, he said, was something that Edmunds could either turn on or leave off when building the city’s software. It can be put back in at a later date though if the council so desires, he added.

The software will still be used to upgrade the city’s current AS400 mainframe to a point-and-click graphical user interface.