WILMINGTON — Four members of Wilmington Council passed a first reading creating a new fund in the utility billing department, over opposition from Fourth Ward Council member Rob Jaehnig.
At-large Council members Marian Miller and Mark McKay, Second Ward Council member Loren Stuckert and Third Ward Council member Joe Spicer voted in favor of a first reading on an ordinance establishing the fund. Council members Randi Milburn and Bob Mead were absent, as was President of Council Cindy Peterson.
The fund’s establishment was delayed from the Aug. 6 council meeting, when it was tabled to have questions about its need answered and billing department practices clarified.
Barb McVey, the supervisor of the Wilmington Utility Billing Department, said credit and debit card fees absorbed by the city were increasing and amounted to $1,222 in August. So, the department stopped taking credit card payments over the phone and will stop taking them over the counter when online bill pay is set up, which could be as early as Oct. 1.
There will also be an 800 number people can call if they don’t have Internet access.
“Then customers will be able to log onto the city’s website and click on ‘Pay utility bill,’” McVey said. “In addition to the amount of their utility bill, they will be charged $3.95 for use of a credit card or $1.95 for using a debit card.”
McVey said other municipalities charge fees for credit card usage and couldn’t find municipalities that charged less.
Those fees go to Official Payments, which processes the payments. The city doesn’t pay Official Payments, but does pay Creative Microsystems Inc. $1,800 per year for web service related to the payments.
According to Jaehnig, and Miller at the Aug. 6 council meeting, the fund was to be established in case any costs do come up. Miller questioned why the fund might be necessary, because there isn’t supposed to be a charge to the city.
City Auditor David Hollingsworth said, “Why wouldn’t you? It’s just an account. It doesn’t do anything.”
Jaehnig complained that the amount was more than what the city currently charges and said it should be absorbed by the city.
“This is standard cost of doing business,” Jaehnig said. “If I’m a small business owner downtown with my shop and I’m accepting credit cards, I’m paying that fee.”
Mayor Randy Riley said stores and businesses adjust prices to cover those costs.
“We don’t want to increase utility prices, but if it’s more convenient to pay by credit card, which is going to cost us money, then we can pass that charge onto them,” Riley said.
Miller said there are other options that don’t incur fees, like paying by check or setting up automatic bill pay.
“It is a rip-off,” Miller said. “I would never charge somebody $4 to run a credit card. It is unfair in the sense of how much that service costs, but expecting the city to absorb it is equally unfair.”
“But there’s a big difference,” Jaehnig said. “There is no other choice to go to. They cannot get their water somewhere else” or their sewer or trash services.
“They can write a check,” Miller said. “I think construing it as a penalty is inaccurate.”
Jaehnig said credit cards enable people who may not have enough money available to pay their bill in full to pay it in full at the time it’s due, “so yes that’s a penalty.”
“I disagree with you,” Miller said.
After discussion, Miller motioned to pass the first reading and Stuckert seconded it. The vote was 4-1, Jaehnig dissenting, and Milburn and Mead absent.
• Received a presentation from Mark Rembert, executive director of the Wilmington-Clinton County Chamber of Commerce. Rembert’s presentation indicated that more people commute into Wilmington to work here than commute elsewhere by a net difference of 3,887. Many of those commuters come from Clinton County and neighboring counties, especially Highland County. Wilmington’s commuters are primarily headed to the Hamilton, Montgomery and Franklin Counties, the “urban core,” Rembert said.
• Received a presentation from Lee Hendee, owner of WALH Radio. Hendee asked residents to consider signing or reading a petition being presented to the Federal Communications Commission that would allow his and other local radio stations to increase the wattage of their stations, protect Low Power FM stations from commercial radio auctions and relax underwriting rules. The petition can be found online by visiting http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/comment/view?id=60001095736.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.
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