Despite recent efforts to go green, Ocala Utility Services is pulling back on newly-implemented paper statement fees—for now.
OUS began charging customers $2 for hard copies and in-person payments of their utility bills on October 1 as a part of their efforts to go paperless.
The city did not anticipate complaints from customers who do not have access to the internet or were not informed of the new fees. As a result, the utility company suspended the fees just five days after they took effect.
“Our goal is to, with these changes, is to go more electronic as opposed to paper copies and also go more electronic as opposed to customers coming in to the service center to pay their bills,” Bill Kauffman, assistant city manager of Ocala, said.
The fees were supposed to help the city of Ocala move with the trend seen in other utility companies and the finance industry to go completely electronic, according to Kauffman.
“Some people were surprised when they were affected, so we decided to pull it back to educate the community more on the fees and why the fees are there before any implementation,” Kauffman said.
John Zobler, Ocala city manager, said he was concerned about the impact paperless statements could have on customers who are used to coming into the center every month.
Although Zobler said it was only a handful of complaints, he thinks they were valid concerns over accessibility that had to be reevaluated.
“Well, the majority of our customers are already paying electronically, but what we didn’t account for was the number of people who don’t have access to computers or smartphones or other devices to otherwise get their billing information,” Zobler said. “So that’s where we took a step back to recalculate our population and see what impacts we were having to that group of people.”
Currently, customers can pay their utility bills online, through an automatic charge, over the phone, by mail, through MoneyGram, through kiosks, in person at the service center or through the payment drop box, according to Mary Ann Davis, their finance director.
“The one changing is to come inside and pay,” Kauffman said. “Those customers can use the drop box or the kiosks where they can pay with cash or check for free.”
The process to go paperless turned out to be more difficult than what Kauffman and Davis initially thought.
Kauffman said they will revisit the fees in January after they have had an opportunity to educate the public on what they mean and why they are there.
Davis wishes the fees could be reinstated as soon as tomorrow.
“Our goal is to improve the processes, streamline the processes, and control the cost,” Kauffman said. “We’re moving forward where the trend in automation is going.
*This story has been updated to correct the city manager’s name, John Zobler, and finance director’s name, Mary Ann Davis. The previous version also misstated Ocala Utility Services.