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City outsourcing utility bill printing

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Elizabeth City has begun outsourcing the printing of its utility bills, a move city officials said should save thousands of dollars a year and free up staff to provide more customer service.

Down the road, city officials also plan to ask the public for help redesigning utility bills to be more customer-friendly.

In a unanimous vote Monday, council approved hiring Infosend, a Raleigh-based firm, to print the city's utility bills, which number more than 12,000 a month. The arrangement will cost the city about $71,000 a year, but that's worth the savings in staff time, City Manager Rich Olson and Finance Director Suzanne Tungate told council during a finance committee meeting last week.

Olson and Tungate explained that three of the city's customer service representatives each spend about 16 hours a month preparing utility bills to go out. Based on labor, paper and postage costs, Olson and Tungate estimate the city spends about 50 cents per bill sent to customers.

Infosend could print bills for 47.5 cents each, they said.

That would free up the customer service reps to help customers, including working the second drive-thru lane the city is building, Olson said.

In addition, Olson and Tungate said third-party billing would be more reliable, noting the company had back-up equipment the city doesn’t, and it should also be able to get bills mailed out within a day. It can take the city up to three days to mail bills, Olson noted.

It’s unclear how much time customers’ bills would spend in transit from Infosend, however.

In a followup email Tuesday, Tungate said it’s not been determined yet where the company would print the bills; she previously said the bills would be printed in Carrollton, Texas.

The city has time to work out the issue: Tungate said the city would not start using Infosend until after it finishes converting to a new billing software. The city is currently upgrading from Logics Classic to Tyler Technologies’ Incode software.

In a related issue, Olson also reported last week that the city is planning to redesign its utility bills. For 30 years, he said, Logics Classic has restricted how the bills are formatted and what information they can contain.

Olson said Tyler's software will allow city utility bills to contain much more information, including outstanding balances on payment plans, whether customers on “levelized” payment plans are keeping up with their actual usage charges, and when customers would face cutoffs for failure to pay.

Putting the cutoff dates right on people's bills would allow the city to stop sending separate notices, Olson said, adding that could save as much as $40,000 a year in postage.

Olson also said the city will solicit customer feedback, including through focus groups, before deciding on a new bill format. The city will be able to continue changing the format as warranted, he added.

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