Union residents would be able to pay water bills from their homes and offices once officials iron out the details of a proposed online utility payment plan.

The city personnel, finance and public works committee is considering a proposal that would allow online payments of utility bills.The committee requested more information before making a decision on the online payment method. 

If approved, it would begin sometime next year.Union Finance Officer Heather Keith said the fee to purchase the software to allow for online payments would cost $4,500, an annual service fee of more than $3,000 and there would be a $1.25 processing fee per transaction.

That fee could be passed onto consumers. According to City Administrator Russell Rost, online payments could cut down in late fees and shutoffs, and would be more convenient for some residents.

“This would eliminate a lot of complaint calls and it is more convenient to customers,” he said.

Now, the city accepts payments by check, credit or debit cards, or through a direct deposit from a bank account.

However, Rost said that some banks contract their direct deposits with another company.

The contracted company sends a check to the city to pay the utility bill, but oftentimes the check comes from out of state and is received after the bill due date.“I think because of the convenience we ought to do it,” said Alderman David Pope. 

Mayor Mike Livengood said if the city does not pass the $1.25 transaction charge onto the consumer, it could be costly, especially if there are 1,000 residents, or more, who use the online payment option.

“If we start doing that we may pay a $12,000 (per year) processing fee,” he said. “I think it will get used a lot.”

Each month there are about 225 residents who utilize the direct deposit payment method, and 150 who pay with a debit or credit card.

“I think the people we will see using this are the people who walk in now and pay with a credit card,” Rost said.

It was noted that the city could pay the processing fee initially to gauge the number of residents who will use the online payment method.Alderman Vicki Hooper said officials need more details, including who will pay that fee before moving forward with online payments.

“I think what you are proposing is good, but we need clarification on (fee) billing,” she said. 

Hooper added that some residents may be upset if they aren’t charged for the online service at first, but a few months later they are charged $1.25.

“We need to go into it with a fee attached if we are going to do that,” she said.

Rost added that the online payment also would benefit those who are traveling and need to pay their bills. Now, some residents who are out of town call before the bill is due and make a payment by giving credit information over the phone. That information must be approved by Rost or the City Clerk Jonita Copeland.