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Archive for Monday, March 14, 2011

Lawrence officials evaluating options when it comes to utility bill late fees

March 14, 2011

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The late fee question at Lawrence City Hall is still an open one.

Assistant City Manager Cynthia Wagner confirmed City Hall leaders are continuing to work on determining why Lawrence has such a high percentage of water and utility bills that incur late fees each month.

But they have a theory: Lawrence is stricter than many other places.

Wagner said the city’s review of the issue thus far has found that many utilities have an unadvertised grace period that must pass before a late fee is attached to a bill. In other words, the due date may be on one day, but a late fee won’t be added to the bill until some point after the due date.

“I think a large part of what is going on is the way we have structured the late payment system,” Wagner said. “There is no grace period with our system.”

The issue of late fees arose in January when the Journal-World reported concerns of a Lawrence resident who said she had unknowingly paid three years of late fees to the city, in part, because the city on its bills called the charges “adjustments” rather than late fees.

A few days after the article, the city announced that it would change its bills to include the more specific term “late fee” rather than adjustment.

The article, though, also brought up questions of whether the city was processing payments in a timely manner. The city estimated that about 30 percent of all monthly utility bills had a late fee attached to them. That was about twice as high of a percentage as several other area utilities.

City officials expressed surprise at the number and said they wanted to determine why the percentages had reached that level. Wagner said the grace period issue was an important one because Lawrence begins attaching a late fee to a bill as soon as the due date passes. Several other utilities, she said, do not.

Whether the city wants to change its practice is a topic being discussed inside City Hall.

“We’re continuing to evaluate it,” Wagner said.

On one hand, the city doesn’t want to give people an incentive to delay sending their payments to the city. But Wagner said the city is finding that some people may be caught unaware of how long it can take for electronic payments to be shipped to the city’s account.

Following the January article, the Journal-World heard from some several Lawrence residents who said they received late payment charges despite using an electronic bill-paying system that transfers money directly to the city’s account without the use of a check or the postal system. Those customers initiated the payment before the due date but still incurred late charges.

Wagner said the city also had heard some of those concerns. She said an issue that customers need to understand is that those electronic payments don’t go directly to the city.

“If I pay my bill electronically, my bank doesn’t necessarily talk to the city of Lawrence directly. There is a third party handler involved, and that can take some time.”

That could be a reason for the city to provide a grace period, but Wagner said the city wanted to study the issue some more. If a change is made, it probably won’t be advertised because the city wants people to respect the actual due date.

The city is also reviewing bids from credit card processors that could make it easier for the city to accept credit card payments without charging a large “convenience fee.” Currently, the city charges a $3.95 convenience fee to cover the fees the city is charged by the credit card companies. Whether a new provider would be able to allow the city to offer a no-fee credit card option isn’t yet clear, Wagner said.

The city does offer a no-fee auto-bill pay option, but that requires a customer to allow the city to make a direct withdrawal from the customer’s bank account.

“We feel like the best thing to do is to sign up for our direct deposit system because that way you will know that it is getting to us on time,” Wagner said.

Comments

allamerican4ever 3 years, 9 months ago

duh people are broke .in a bedroom community people commute to work . local tax goes up wages go down. when a gallon of milk is higher than a gallon of gas. duh people are broke

mrbig 3 years, 9 months ago

I think that the City of Lawrence's utilities department does take a while to process payments, unless you actually walk in and pay the bill. I can send in a check a week before it is due, or pay it online with the almost $4 'convenience' fee, and still have late fees. Then, if you are 'late' 2 months in a row- they make you pay I think $60 split onto 2 bills as a punishment.

BBalls 3 years, 9 months ago

It does not seem that complicated and appears that the city handles payments made at their front desk differently than payments made online. It is mentioned in this article and previous ones that it takes time to get the money in their bank and customers need to understand there is delay to getting the funds from THE CITY’s electronic processor to THE CITY’s bank. Most businesses base a late fee on the date received for processing, not the date it is credited to the bank account. Some business are efficient enough that the date received for processing and date credited in the bank account are one in the same. If I walk into city hall at 4pm and pay my water bill with a check on the due date I assume it would not be considered late even though it WILL NOT be credited to the City’s bank account that day. But if I pay online and the payment is received by the City’s electronic processor ON the due date the city marks this as a late payment because it is not credited to their bank account. Under both scenarios the City RECEIVED the payment on the due date but handled them differently. I do not think this is a grace period issue as was assumed in the article, it is simply a bad policy within their accounting department.

conservative 3 years, 9 months ago

I use to do the automatic withdrawl with the city but will not do so again. I changed banks and set up the new information with the city. I gave them plenty of notice and kept the old account active for 2 months to allow all processes to be completed. After 2 months i closed the old account but the city continued to send the bills to it even though in their system they showed the correct new bank and account number. It took them 2 more months to straighten out their system during which they tried to charge me late fees and bounced check charrges. they did finally correct everything and credit me properly but there was way too much hassle involved.

mrbig 3 years, 9 months ago

Exactly. The point is that you shouldn't have to walk in to pay your bill every time just to avoid late fees.

Tammy Copp-Barta 3 years, 9 months ago

Besides the economy being an issue - you used to be able to drop payments at various places around town .. I assume you now have to walk in, drop in their box near city hall, or pay online (and pay a fee)? Does anyone know where else you can pay them?

lgreen 3 years, 9 months ago

We read the article, too, but it was too late to change our paying method for that month. We'd been paying our bills online through Commerce, setting them to be paid on the due date. We incurred "adjustments" for over a year, so I anticipated the next bill to have an adjustment. It did not. So, I decided to continue paying as I always have on the due date. No late fee. Why did I get late fees for 13 months before but not since when my payment method hasn't changed at all? Seems strange to me...

BBalls 3 years, 9 months ago

Unfortunately there are probably many people who had "adjustments" for years that no longer get them even though they are still paying on the due date. The city knew all along what was going on and were forced to change once it was publicized. Hopefully the next article provides more insight.

ralphralph 3 years, 9 months ago

"Strict" or "Shady" ?

Failure to disclose = underhanded lie.

Give back the money.

56_Kruiser 3 years, 9 months ago

I would bet that inspection of the cutomers who are being 'late' would determine that a very high percentage of that 30% is customers paying electronically.

It is completely invalid for them to be charging late fees to those customers when they get teh payment in on time to whomever is handling their electronic payments.

Their explanation to me when I discovered I was being charged late fees after many multiple months of charges (as discussed in the initial article on this topic in LJW), was that it could not post until the day after receipt, and that I needed to pay early.

What a load of BS. They know they are making extra money on this.

3 years, 9 months ago

Think about this. You pay any business by mail with a check and it arrives on the day it is due. They mark it as paid on time. Because it did. You pay the City any way you want and it gets there on time but the money doesn't get to their acct for a few days and it is LATE. It is your responsibility to get the payment to them on time, not that they get it PROCESSED into their acct on time. Start acting like a business and not a goverenment truing to stick it to you.

musicstudent 3 years, 9 months ago

My biggest issue with Lawrence Utility billings is that all my other bills are online - I both receive the bill and can automatically withdraw the money for the bill.

I really prefer to pay online, since every other utility bill is online it would be helpful. But I have never seen a more backwards online payment service (and to be charged almost $4 to use it). Since I have switched to Mac I can't even use Safari to view my city bill since it is not compatible with their bill viewing site. I have to keep a separate browser just to view my bill! Is it really that hard when all my other bills can be paid online?

I keep paying my bill now with a check and mailing it in, since it is faster than using their online system, but I admit I occasionally forget! I don't hold the city accountable for my forgetfulness but if they are wondering why some bills are late - they could look at how inconvenient they make it (compared to other utilities today).

equalaccessprivacy 3 years, 9 months ago

Something is really crooked with this billing. I barely use any water and until recently only put trash out twice a month. My bill is still astronomical. Half the time the water tastes like algae--which no one should have to pay for.

Sparko 3 years, 9 months ago

This is truly what happens after 30-years of attacks on the working people. Wages have gone down for most adult's entire lives. The "What's the Matter with Kansas?" scenario.

People vote to keep gay people from being married and get low wages and theocracy. And are living on the bare edge of nothing. Kansas needs to dispense with the Republican disaster forever. There is nothing wrong with a living wage or religious self-determination. Or freedom.

Kontum1972 3 years, 9 months ago

don't forget shooting people like feral hogs....from helicopters

"What's the Matter with Kansas?"

hmmm...maybe.. its the water

equalaccessprivacy 3 years, 9 months ago

"What's the matter with Kansas---this time?" The question was first asked in 1896, I found out the other day. It's from a famous editorial.

equalaccessprivacy 3 years, 9 months ago

"What's the matter with Kansas---this time?" The question was first asked in 1896, I found out the other day. It's from a famous editorial.

Bladerunner 3 years, 9 months ago

My biggest beef with utility billing is having to go through an outside company and pay a charge. Westar doesnt do that. I pay my water bill when its convienent for me. Usually online at 2am. The company the city contracts through has a hokey looking website. First time I got on it I refused to continue because I was sure it had been hacked and I would sending my money to Nigeria or somewhere. After I spoke to them a few days later they assured me it was safe. The website tacks on a fee. Why can't I just pay the City of Lawrence? The municipal court and parks and rec will take my debit card. Surely there is a way for me to pay online through one of the citys websites without having to make somebody in another state wealthy!

Pete_Schweti 3 years, 9 months ago

^^Agreed. There is no reason in this day and age that anyone should have a "convenience fee" for paying online. Pay for the processing yourself, accept ACH checking debits to get around the Visa tax and call it a day.

There is no doubt a LOT shady going on with the way this billing is handled.

BigPrune 3 years, 9 months ago

I wonder if the reason for the delay is because the City needs to find another way to screw the citizens to makeup for the shortfall in the 'adjustment' fees?

jafs 3 years, 9 months ago

We pay by check through the mail and haven't had any problems.

I'd say that's the obviously better way to do it.

matahari 3 years, 9 months ago

Shady defiantly! They count their pennies (dollars) and know exactly what they are doing. And this winter since there was snow, they didn't shut folks off that were three months late (you can guess how i know) I suppose it was because they didn't can't to get wet and dirty, and dig around trying to locate the hole cover. You'd think they'd have a small metal detector, I would If I can wanting ot make extra bucks by shutting folks water off.

I've heard Baldwin is worse, something like 50% late fee, or something unbelievable. Anyone know about late pmts. to city utilities in Baldwin? I am curious if my friend that mentioned this hard to believe fact, or if he is misinterpreting...anyone?

Also something about personal property tax (on a home) is not paid then you cannot renew your car tags? True or no?

From now on I am going ot pay closer attention to the listings/charges on my bills. I check sunflowers charges with frequency.

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