Council hears utility billing update

By Sheryl Roadcap -

SIDNEY — Sidney City Council heard an update on the city’s utility billing during Monday evening’s hybrid-style meeting.

Karen Berning, revenue collection manager, presented the information on the city’s revenue collections department. Her report included payment options: AutoPay (customer provides bank account number); customer’s online banking, online via the city’s website; and payment by cash, check or money order in person; by phone using credit or debit cards; in the drop box; or by mail.

Approximately 55% of all utility billing accounts are now billed monthly, she reported. This is an increase from 52% in 2019 and is also up from 41% in 2014.

According to 2019 statistics, residents paid most often by cash, check or money order, although each of the electronic payment options did see incremental growth last year. The number of customers currently using the electronic payment option from the city’s website increased substantially in 2020, which Berning said is likely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the building closure to the public

The current average monthly cash usage is 3,117 out of a total of 6,669 for all the methods combined. This method is the most costly for the city, at about .96 cents per transaction including staff time, Berning said.

Paying via the customer’s online banking is the least costly for the city, at .10 per transaction, Berning’s report showed. Currently the city receives 871 monthly payments from customer’s online banking through their own bank. Paying in this method saves customers a stamp and avoids mail time issues. Berning said the customers’ funds remain in their bank until they set a date to pay the bill. Customers paying through online banking will still receive a paper bill to verify billed amounts and usage.

Berning reported the city receives 339 monthly payments via autopay, 745 credit card payments at the counter, and 1,597 monthly payments by e-checks and credit cards through the city’s website at .

Customers also have the option to receive bills by email. Currently 229 customers receive ebills instead of paper, which is down from 247 in 2019. This cuts the city’s costs for postage, paper bills and envelopes. It also offers advantages to the customer, including immediate access to the bill and a 13-month history of their bills.

Despite information advertised on paper bills about receiving a bill via email, it is still the least popular method in which customers wish to receive their utility bill. Paper bills cost the city about .56 cents per bill.

Council members questioned if the popularity of the e-bill service would grow with more marketing about the service and its benefits. Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan suggested creating an online option to sign up for the auto payment program could be beneficial. Mayor Mike Barhorst asked if customers with delinquent bills during the pandemic were paid in full. Berning said only 32 accounts remain on payment plans following the pandemic.

By Sheryl Roadcap

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.